Pretty cool premise for an old dark house-style mystery. Errol Flynn is Mark Caldwell, who tells visitor Sandra Marshall/Demarest (Barbara Stanwyck) that his nephew James Demarest (Richard Basehart), whom she claims is her missing husband, is dead. Not surprisingly, Sandra questions that, and sticks around to scope the situation out.
Mark’s brother, Senator Caldwell, brings Sandra to the house. There was a funeral notice about James (Jim). Mark insists that Jim’s marriage must’ve been “secret.” She figures that she’s the beneficiary of his will; Mark’s view is that the five-month-old marriage marks her as a gold digger. But he nonetheless introduces her to Jim’s sister Julie (Geraldine Brook) as Mrs. Demarest.
Julie pops up at Sandra’s room. She mentions a laboratory (oh boy!), and that Mark had been interfering in Jim’s life. Anyway, the story is that, subsequent to a fatal bout of pneumonia, Jim ended up in the mysterious lab. Next day, mourners come for the funeral. Sandra goes riding with Julie, who plans to meet a boyfriend. Incredibly, Mark shows up, basically spying on Julie. A worker points out to Sandra where the lab is.
Once again, Julie comes into Sandra’s room at night: she’s frightened. They both here a man screaming, and skulk around to investigate–are we going to see the lab? Not so fast! Creepily, Mark ‘checks in’ on Julie. In the morning, all appears…not so normal. Julie tells Mark about the screaming–naturally he attribues this to her “nightmares.” Afterwards, Sandra and Julie huddle up; Julie takes her to Jim’s room, looking for clues.
They talk about Julie’s inheritance and family history. The only odd thing about his room is that certain doodads are missing–could Jim be alive? Perhaps in the lab? Right now I’m thinking, it’s 1947, not 1847; why doesn’t Sandra call the police, or at least an attorney? Mark takes Sandra to task for “upsetting” Julie. The pot calling the kettle black, or whatnot. Mark has an aloof, but semi-menacing demeanor; he’d be wiser to affect just a bit of sadness for Jim’s demise.
Weirdly, he’s more interested in sweet-talking and smooching Sandra. Now it’s Julie who’s suffering, getting locked in, it seems. Sandra learns how to infiltrate the lab, via the dumb-waiter (dumb terminology for such a clever device). Sure enough, Sandra gets smart, and hoists herself into the lab’s antechamber. She overhears Mark talking to Laidell (John Ridgely) about her, and about a prescription. Nearly found out, she gets back to her room in time to hear Julie scream.
Julie has ‘accidentally’ fallen to her death. A doctor drives up, saying they’ll have to call the coroner. Sandra sneaks up to an attic room, and goes out on the roof, on her way to drop in, literally, on the lab. Uh-oh, Mark is there. “What makes you think Jim has risen from the dead?” He tries to spin Julie’s death as Sandra’s fault. He shows her the door.
Then, Julie’s burial. Afterwards, Mark opens a safe, and offers Sandra some family heirlooms–obviously, an attempt to buy her off. At the same time, he relates that Jim’s safe deposit box confirms everything she said. Finally, he actually wants to take her to the lab. In fact, he’s tuning up his charm-school fake-sincerity bit. There appears to be nothing odd in the lab. She asks him about Laidell and the rest of his loyal staff. She wants to go riding. Kind of risky, is the horse trusty?
No, she gets thrown, but finds out about another secret place, a lodge. Hopping a fence, she goes on in the woods, then: it’s Jim. He says he’s had an “accident” and Laidell “takes care” of him. He doesn’t recognize her at first. Laidell is close by. Apparently, the prescription alluded to earlier was for Jim’s sleeping pills. Sandra’s able to sneak away, back to the mansion.
The Senator’s limo is there. She wants to stick around; Mark wants her to go, but gives in. She thinks she sees Jim outside, but it’s Mark. Full disclosure time: Jim and Julie’s father had died in an asylum…ok, but Jim has murdered someone, so he’s been held there in lieu of being locked up. Um, but…a few questions, please.
Fortunately, Jim shows up to clear things. He knocks Mark down–it appears Jim really is deranged. He thinks Sandra’s in love with Mark, and he wants to split with her. She realizes that Mark was right. Jim, scuffling with Mark, simplifies things by falling to his death. Now she’s on the square with Mark. The end, I think.
The ending is like a whole other movie, with its own sort of subplot. That’s good, because this short movie seemed to take forever to get from Point A to Point B. Luckily, Points C through Z showed up in time for a grand denouement. The main problem with Cry Wolf is that (ending aside) everything is much too obvious. Once we find out about the lab, it’s pretty obvious that Mark has either turned his nephew into a chicken, or killed him.
Ok, neither of those things happened–but clearly the lab is the focus of the main plot. It just occurred to me though, that, since Mark was right, and nothing very weird went on there, it’s pretty much a red herring. Well, Mark had to develop “the compound” there; but, even so, that could at the worst be a quack medication. Since, apparently, nothing happened to Jim other than his becoming, in effect, an unwilling hermit, Mark hasn’t harmed him.
Julie’s death doesn’t incriminate Mark either. The real shocker is that Jim turns out to be the bad guy. That’s cool. It kind of begs the question, though, that Sandra just might’ve known something was off about him. It’s never explained, having only been married a short time, how or why he disappeared in the first place. That is, he was having a psychotic episode in Canada; where was she? What was she doing?
One thing that I incorrectly anticipated was that Mark would say he’d faked Jim’s death so that Jim could get out from under the murder rap. As it turns out, I just don’t see the point of having Jim dead. Since he’s completely under Mark’s thumb, I would think Mark would have control of Jim’s assets too. Even if Jim has to be dead for Mark to benefit monetarily, there’s still the complication that Sandra figures into it. If we accept the conceit that the marriage is ‘secret’ (again, anyone in 1947 could access records, especially someone as connected as a senator’s brother), then we need to know more about Sandra.
If she had a shady or secret past–maybe if it were shown or at least implied that she too was mentally imbalanced–then some of the other parts of the plot would add up better. The implications of the illogical plot forces the characters to act falsely: Sandra is certainly inquisitive, but acts as her own detective, as though she were on a desert island; Mark is only occasionally not wooden, and Jim is all over the place.
Of course, Jim is supposed to be nuts. But he reacts differently in each of his scenes–disoriented, has amnesia, pleading, threatening, calm, detached. Again, this could be explicable if it were determined what “the compound” was, or what effect, if any, it might’ve had on him. Either the lab needs more horror trappings where dark deeds did take place, Sandra needs to have more history, or there should be some (official) pressure on Mark to build up some tension.
What we end up with is a movie having an ending that doesn’t fit the premise, and a plot that unravels quietly with nothing to pull it together. This is entertaining, but a bit unsatisfying.
Farmermouse loved those horsey rides, so he gives this seven cups of hot cocoa. 7/10.