Noirvember Review: ‘A Cry in the Night’
Every November fans of classic cinema celebrate one of the great genres of filmdom, the film noir. These beloved films ensure fans get their fill of; gritty streets, tough detectives, dark alleys, mysterious femme fatales, seedy bars, villainous gangsters, and a unique moody style. This month I will be looking at some of the great noir films of all time for what has been dubbed Noirvember.
We are all familiar with the cinematic trope of the jaded but high strung cop who makes every case personal. But what if the case he ends up on actually is personal? Does that cop take things to the next level to solve it and ensure justice is done? This is the concept behind the 1956, film nor A Cry in the Night. The film was adapted from the book All Through the Night by Whit Masterson, and should you try to find anything about the life and times of this prolific pulp writer good luck. This was actually a pseudonym used by the collaborative team of H. Bill Miller and Robert Wade. The film was produced by Alan Ladd’s company Jaguar Productions, the star’s short-lived production company, that frequently collaborated with Warner Bros.
On a seemingly quiet night, teenagers Liz Taggart and her boyfriend head up to a local lover’s lane. But expectations of adolescent romance are ruined when Harry Loftus attacks, brutally beating the boyfriend and leaving him for dead and kidnapping Liz. Word that his daughter has been kidnapped reaches her father, Police Captain Dan Taggart. An already tightly strung cop, this, understandably, sends Tagagrt into a frenzy while his partner Ed Bates attempts in vain to be a calming counterbalance to solve the case. As this night rages on, Liz is trapped in the dungeon-esque hideaway with Harry forced to play a psychological game of cat-and-mouse with a troubled lunatic in order to stay alive.
Of all the film noir heavies Raymond Burr played throughout his career this one is possibly my favorite. The actor delivers a truly creepy performance as the disturbed Harry Loftus. In the source material his character is a one-note brutish sex fiend, but Burr portrays Loftus as a repressed and troubled man who has deep psychologically rooted issues with women. The movie strongly implies the fact that Liz is far from the first victim he has brought to his lair at an old foundry, and if not stopped, she will not be his last. You truly get the feeling for the hopelessness of his co-star Natalie Wood’s character. As a petite teenage girl she has no hope of overpowering her hulking captor, so she has any hope of surviving she has to rely on psychological tactics. The razor-sharp chemistry Burr and Wood share with one another is the driving force behind Cry in the Night. Despite being polar opposites, the two characters are both driven by parental issues. Having an overbearing father exercising authority with a heavy-hand is nothing new for teenagers, but when said father is a cop Liz has that issue with an extra dose. Despite being a dangerous criminal, Harry, in many ways, has the mental status of a child thanks to the treatment he endured at the hands of his mother played memorably by Carol Veazie.
While the A-story between Natalie Wood and Raymond Burr is what gives this film its edge, the flipside of the plot is just as interesting. Two familiar faces to noiristas Edmond O’Brien and Brian Donlevy, are natural in anchoring the police procedural aspect of A Cry in the Night. They fulfill the standard good cop/good cop dichotomy with ease as O’Brien adds extra layers to the proceedings. He is a hot-head who is understandably out to burn down the world with a fury to rescue his daughter and make the kidnapper pay. Along the way he is forced to confront the toll his attitude has taken on those around him.
As previously mentioned, A Cry in the Night was produced by Alan Ladd through his Jaguar Productions. While the star of The Blue Dahlia and Shane did not appear in the film, he did lend his vocals tp a voiceover role. That being said the crew was filled with many of his frequent collaborators, including Frank Tuttle at the helm, the filmmaker who directed Ladd in his starmaking performance in the noir masterpiece This Gun for Hire. In that film, Tuttle envisioned an underworld filled with equal parts grit and darkness, and he brought this same aesthetic to A Cry in the Night. The hideout where Harry is hiding the kidnapped Liz has a fitting industrialized terror with just enough dark exaggerated to a real and grounded setting. While this is more of a straight forward crime picture than his previous pulp outings, Tuttle does manage to bring out the most interesting plot elements and play into them.
With and all-star cast and solid direction A Cry in the Night is a solid crime thriller. For anyone looking to begin their first steps in exploring the dark and dangerous world of film noir this is an ideal introduction to the style. A straightforward pulp flick with a number of the hallmark’s that defined the film noir cycle.