Errol Flynn and Barbara Stanwyck shine in... Cry Wolf (1947)
Barbara Stanwyck and Errol Flynn made a movie together. I repeat: Stany and Errol made a movie together. These two stars were phenomenally charismatic, exhibiting magnetic charm and a screen presence that inhabited scenes that they weren't even in. When you put them together, you get a curious kind of fireworks -- not explosive, but quietly intense and subtle. The best thing about their partnership? It gave Flynn a marvelous role, one that didn't include being an action hero. He may have been the best swashbuckler the movies have ever seen, but Flynn was also a lovely actor and to see him go head to head with the woman who may have been the best actress Hollywood has ever seen is such a treat.
In 1945, Cry Wolf was a novel by Marjorie Carleton. Within months of its release, Warner Bros. snatched up the film rights, keeping Stanwyck in mind from the very start. To star with Stany, Warners had their eye on Dennis Morgan. Now I love Dennis Morgan. But let's face it, Dennis wasn't exactly the best actor and I'm not sure if he could've pulled off the trickiness of playing Mark Caldwell. (Forgive me, Dennis!) Almost a year later, Flynn was announced as Stany's leading man and Peter Godfrey was made the director. Cry Wolf would be the third and last film that Godfrey and Stanwyck would collaborate on, their others being Christmas in Connecticut and The Two Mrs. Carrolls (which I'll be discussing in a few weeks!).
Surprisingly, although Errol Flynn was always begging for roles that didn't require a sword or a cowboy hat, he wasn't thrilled when Jack Warner cast him in Cry Wolf while he was away in Jamaica. He soon warmed to the part, but unfortunately, it doesn't sound like he and Stanwyck became best friends. At the beginning of shooting, Flynn allegedly made a rude remark to Stany about her marriage to Robert Taylor, a marriage that was rumored to be set up by MGM. For his part, Taylor wasn't a fan of Flynn, whose heart murmur excused him from serving during WWII. Maybe it's a good thing Stany and Flynn's characters are supposed to have a contentious relationship... Let's get to it!
Is there anyone who had more memorable introductions than Errol Flynn? Sitting behind a desk with seemingly nothing but the fireplace giving off light, Flynn is smoking a pipe and writing when Stanwyck comes before him. Wearing glasses that reflect the light rather than let us see his eyes, Flynn's Mark Caldwell is cold and calculating. Puzzled about what Stanwyck's Sandra could want, he mentions that the family is in mourning because his nephew just died so it'd be great if she could quickly state her business.
Disbelieving, Mark is presented with the marriage license. Sandra says that she knew nothing of her husband Jim's death until she saw the newspaper notice and she is just as surprised as Mark that the marriage was a secret to him. After all, she and Jim were wed so Jim could collect his inheritance from his deceased mother based on her will, a will that they believe Mark coerced her into. Sandra accuses Mark of wanting to select Jim's bride himself so if anything happened to his nephew, the money would go to a wife
Charles, Sandra, and Mark settle into the dining room to have dinner when the woman we saw earlier busts in, demanding to know why Mark thinks he has the right to read her private letters. Mark introduces her to Sandra as Julie, Jim's younger sister. Julie is played by Geraldine Brooks and I gotta admit, I find her pretty grating. If I had my way, Brooks wouldn't have been picked over the original choice for Julie, Dorothy Malone. Malone would have been done wonders with the part. Anyway, Julie is delighted about Sandra and begs her to stay longer. She then shifts her attention back to Mark, declaring that his meddling won't stop her romance with a boy named Ronnie. Her uncle's menacing presence is in full force as he orders her to sit and she complies.
Later that night, Julie comes to Sandra's room and talks about how Jim had been engaged to another woman. Their engagement had been mysteriously called off and Julie believes that Mark was the one who ruined it. According to her, scientist Mark is using Jim's money to fund the private lab he has in the house. Julie advises Sandra to never trust her uncle and Sandra finds cause to heed her new friend's warning when Julie tells her about Jim's death. She had heard her brother go into the library; in the morning, Mark said he was ill and confined him to the lab, where Julie is forbidden to go. He died without Julie ever knowing how.
Things get a lot more curious when Sandra is in bed that night and Julie comes running in, claiming that she has heard a man screaming and it sounds like Jim. It also isn't the first time this has happened. Sandra is trying to calm her when she hears it, too. They slowly walk to the lab, but when they hear someone walking
At breakfast the next morning, Julie lets Mark know that she heard scuffling and screaming from his lab again. He brushes it off, explaining to Sandra that Julie has always had nightmares about the lab ever since she was little. He used to let her in there, but once she
As the women are looking around, Julie finds a family photo album and points out a sweet fairly recent picture of Mark and Jim all smiles.
Around 3 am, she sneaks into the lab's outer office by going up in the dumbwaiter. She hears Mark inside speaking about some place called Three Hills to the
Suddenly frightened, Sandra rushes to the balcony and looks down to see Julie's body on the ground with an open suitcase beside her. When Mark explains that his niece was trying to run away and she accidentally slipped, Sandra makes it clear that she doesn't believe him. Her distrust is increased tenfold when she finds beside Julie a broken jar of cold cream, a special Italian brand that Sandra had let her borrow. She reasons that Julie would've left it behind if she had intended to run away, especially since the cream was encased in a beautifully ornate container that belonged to Sandra. Someone else must have packed Julie's suitcase, such as the housekeeper who has no problem doing Mark's bidding.
Later that day, Sandra tries to enter the lab, but of course it's locked. She won't be deterred by this, though -- she goes to the attic and discovers that she can enter the mystical lab by climbing in through the outer office's skylight. Everything is going smoothly, until Sandra opens the door to the lab and comes face to face with a furious Mark. The sudden cut to his close-up is disconcerting, as is the close-up of Sandra's wide-eyed, terrified face. He questions why she is so obsessed with his lab, causing her to respond that she wants to find Jim. Julie's death only intensified this desire. She also discloses that she and Julie were together when Julie said there was screaming the other night. Mark orders Sandra to leave the room, but unable to resist himself, he throws open the dumbwaiter and says "That seems to be the way you prefer to leave." He then takes a hair comb from his pocket, revealing that he knew she sneaked in last night. Well, that's awkward.
Shot from a low angle, they enter the pristine, white lab, its style in sharp contrast to the dark, Gothic-like interiors of the rest of the house. Disappointingly, there is nothing very evil about the space. There are no torture devices, no chains, no test tubes or beakers filled with boiling concoctions. Mark is forthcoming when Sandra asks who the bearded man is, too -- he is a groundskeeper named Laidell. Still, there are obviously secrets that Mark is continuing to keep and Sandra is determined to figure them out.
She goes for a final horseback ride, cleverly asking the stableman how far the estate's land goes so she doesn't "accidentally" ride off the property. The man tells her that one boundary is the game reserve and lodge at Three Hills, so naturally, Sandra makes her way there. When her horse gets spooked by a rabbit, she is thrown off and the horse runs away, but fortunately the animal had the good sense to leave her at the outskirts of the lodge. Sandra climbs the fence and finds herself amongst overgrown bushes and gnarly trees. A man comes into view as he walks her way -- it's Jim! Weirdly, he doesn't recognize Sandra, citing an accident that left his memory foggy. The more Sandra talks, though, the more Jim remembers. She informs him of Julie's death and says that Mark has all of the money now, just like Jim feared he would. When Laidell starts calling for Jim, Jim tells Sandra how to sneak out of the fenced area and promises to meet her at the house once Laidell and his wife believe they have given Jim his sleeping pill.
What he had wanted to tell her in the library was that Jim and Julie's father had died in a
Sandra still doesn't quite believe it, but just as she is saying that Jim has always appeared normal to her, Jim creeps up behind Mark and knocks him unconscious. When she expresses concern that Mark might be
Out on the terrace, Mark joins an exhausted Sandra. "It's better this way," he assures her. "It was all my fault," she responds. "I was so stubborn, so suspicious." "So hard to convince," Mark gently points out before continuing, "Why not? I didn't trust you, either." Taking her hand, Mark and Sandra walk away from the house with new respect for and understanding of each other.
Cry Wolf has quite a few things working in its favor. Firstly, it has a great score by Franz Waxman. Secondly, it has gorgeous, haunting cinematography by Carl Guthrie. There is also special effects photography by Robert Burks, who became a masterful director of photography and one of Alfred Hitchcock's favorites. There are many beautiful shots in this film, and with Stanwyck and/or Flynn in every scene, I ended up taking over 80 screenshots. There is one moment when Sandra breaks into the lab's outer office that I just adore. The room is covered in criss-crossed shadows from the moon coming in through the skylight. When Mark and Laidell open the lab's door to come into the office, one of the shadows that falls across the door moves and evokes a heavy lock like you would see for a vault or in a prison. The effect happens again when Mark and Laidell go back into the lab. It ties perfectly into the idea that the lab is a forbidden fortress of sorts.
my post on Flynn and Bette Davis, but it bears repeating: Flynn consistently held his own with giants of the silver screen, yet his contributions are usually chalked up to his good looks and powerful personality. If Flynn didn't have the acting chops to back it up, though, would he be nearly as watchable and iconic as he is?
One person who was always credited as a genuine actor was Stanwyck. She has to be one of the most consistent performers I've ever seen. Did she ever make a false note? Seeing her play a stubborn widow-turned-amazing detective is fantastic. Honestly, I could watch Stany read the phone book and I'd be enthralled. Regardless, Sandra is a great role. Unlike Julie, she isn't given to hysterics and she runs toward trouble rather than away from it. Fearless Stany was the perfect choice.
Although not well remembered today, director Peter Godfrey can be counted on to do a good job. He isn't fussy or overly artistic, yet he also doesn't quite capture images the way Hitchcock, Minnelli, or any of the other Great Directors did. Still, his work on Cry Wolf is memorable -- so long as you don't get too distracted by the magnificence of Barbara and Errol. In addition to working with Stanwyck before, Godfrey directed Flynn again in 1947 in the sweet romantic drama Escape Me Never, another movie that marked a departure for Flynn. (That's Godfrey with Ida Lupino on the set of Escape Me Never above.)
Cry Wolf is an underrated thriller and a brilliant showcase for its two leads. Once you know the twist, watching it again just makes you appreciate it more, especially in regards to Flynn's performance. If you consider yourself a fan of his at all, Cry Wolf is essential viewing.
This is my contribution to the fabulous Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn Blogathon. Celebrate the lovely lady's 101st birthday (and her frequent co-star) by checking out the roster here.