Cause for Alarm, 1951

In this crime drama, there’s subterfuge going on from the first scene. George (Barry Sullivan) is interrupted by his wife Ellen (Loretta Young) while he’s writing a letter accusing her and his doctor Ranney (Bruce Cowling) of conspiring to kill him. Weirdly, as we see in Helen’s flashback, he seems fully recovered from his disability before his marriage; but he’s nonetheless disabled in the movie’s present time. I guess there’s two different issues–his heart problem that shows up later, and the accident injury that he has possibly recovered from. Emotionally and psychologically though, the love-triangle aspect gives the murder plot more steam.

George certainly seems paranoid, not to mention surly, suspicious, and controlling (he even wants to know what Ellen is thinking). The interesting thing, jerk that he is, he might have reason to question Ellen and Ranney. George certainly puts the screws to them; comparing Ranney to the little kid he once cheated out of a favorite toy. Ellen being the disputed the ‘toy’ in this instance. Nice coincidence that he drops dead just as he’s about to murder her. Isn’t that ‘overkill’? What’s the point of killing her? It kind of demolishes the credibility of his letter.

It does seem odd that the postman won’t give the letter back to her. Maybe he’s a bit officious, but, under the circumstances, I suppose he’s right. The obsession over the letter, as just many here has commented, really drives a stake into the heart of this movie. For one thing, George’s holding a gun on her (with his fingerprints) when he dies; not to mention the fact that he’s been unstable for some time. But she mucks up the scene by touching the gun anyway. The letter itself is a sort of double-edged sword. Its contents could just as easily seem absurd as damning, especially since both Ellen and Ranney would testify to George’s increasingly strange behavior. She runs into bureaucratic walls at the post office; not only does she make a scene, but now the postal supervisor is certain to recall her anxiety over the letter. A suitable irony is built-in as the letter’s returned anyway.

I suppose she’s in the clear. She still has to account for the fact that she waited to report the death–there’s no lack of visitors she shooed away to make that omission loom large. Not to mention that she had the fatal heart medication renewed ahead of schedule. She acted weird to everyone the entire day while her husband lay dead upstairs–gun or no gun, letter or no letter.

Looking at the premise again, it might’ve been better to do without the letter. There’s enough motive established for both George’s suspicions, and for Ellen’s and Ranney’s possible conspiracy. The letter is as obvious a deux ex machina as possible. Cause For Alarm takes an interesting concept down a dead-end road. It’s not a very bad movie–the performances are quite good–but it’s disappointing. 5/10

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