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Cry Wolf (1947) was the third and final film made by Barbara Stanwyck with director Peter Godfrey. Stanwyck had become personal friends with the London-born stage and film director during World War II, while husband Robert Taylor was off serving the Allied effort as a US Navy flying instructor. Stanwyck and Godfrey first collaborated on the lightweight holiday romp Christmas in Connecticut (1945), which they followed with the psychological thriller The Two Mrs. Carrolls (completed 1945, released 1947). Costarring Humphrey Bogart as a psychotic painter who believes his artwork can come alive only through the violent death of his current wife, the film sat moldering in the vault at Warner Brothers for two years before its release, purportedly because the studio was embarrassed by Bogart's over-the-top performance. Warners had bought the rights to Marjorie Carleton's 1945 mystery novel Cry Wolf as a vehicle for Stanwyck and her Christmas in Connecticut costar Dennis Morgan but by the time cameras turned on the project in May of 1946, Stanwyck was paired instead with Errol Flynn.
Though Flynn was irked that he had been cast in Cry Wolf in absentia by studio head Jack Warner while he was buying property in Jamaica, the role of the secretive Mark Caldwell had allure for Flynn, then seeking parts requiring greater dramatic range than those offered by his usual swashbucklers, westerns, and combat films. Shooting is reported to have gotten off to a rocky start, with the rakish Flynn allegedly making an off-color remark to Stanwyck about her studio-sanctioned marriage to Taylor. (In some revisionist Hollywood histories, Flynn is alleged to have held a grudge against Taylor for rebuffing his sexual advances in years past, while Taylor definitely resented Flynn for having sat out World War II with a heart murmur.)Whatever Stanwyck's response might have been has been lost to time but it is telling that the studio felt it prudent to release a statement in Stanwyck's name in advance of the film's premiere: "People say terrible things about Errol Flynn. I have never worked with anyone nicer. He was on time, he knew his lines, he was a perfect gentleman."
If The Two Mrs. Carrolls had been a veritable old dark house film minus the old dark house, Cry Wolf evened the balance, setting its tale in an ancestral manse out of Charlotte Brontë, complete with forbidden laboratories, dodgy servants, cries in the night, and a resourceful heroine in Stanwyck's unstoppable Sandra Marshall. Sold as a borderline horror film, Cry Wolf seemed to take inspiration from the Universal Studios school of fear-mongering, while its allocation of heroic deeds to a strong female lead seems influenced by the shockers produced by Val Lewton at RKO, particularly I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and The Seventh Victim (1943). (Prominent among the supporting players was the baleful Helene Thimig, who had appeared in Lewton's Isle of the Dead , opposite Boris Karloff.) The Gothic ambiance is furthered by Franz Waxman's stormy orchestrations and the evocative cinematography of Carl Guthrie, who later shot William Castle's House on Haunted Hill (1959). Special effects photography was by Robert Burks, a master of forced perspective who graduated to work as a director of photography, most notably for Alfred Hitchcock.
Critics of the day were generally unkind to the one and only onscreen pairing of Barbara Stanwyck and Errol Flynn and Cry Wolf, while moderately successful, faded swiftly into obscurity. Both actors rallied in more successful projects - Flynn in the Oscar®-winning Adventures of Don Juan (1948), Kim (1950), and a handful of later career swashbucklers and Stanwyck in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), The Furies (1950), and Clash by Night (1952) - and both experimented with varying degrees of success in the burgeoning medium of television. However it may have denied moviegoers of the postwar era what they expected of the stars of Double Indemnity (1944) and The Sea Hawk (1940), Cry Wolf endures sixty-odd years later as an entertaining experiment, one giving its principal players a taste of something completely different. Flynn clearly relished the opportunity to play a man of high breeding and erudition, yet one guided by hardwired propriety and hobbled by mounting guilt, while Stanwyck was an inspired midlife Nancy Drew, creeping through the shadows at zero-dark-thirty, folding herself into dumbwaiters and spidering across gabled rooftops to gain access into Flynn's forbidden attic laboratory.
Producer: Henry Blanke
Director: Peter Godfrey
Screenplay: Catherine Turney (screenplay); Marjorie Carleton (novel)
Cinematography: Carl Guthrie
Art Direction: Carl Jules Weyl
Music: Franz Waxman
Film Editing: Folmer Blangsted
Cast: Errol Flynn (Mark Caldwell), Barbara Stanwyck (Sandra Marshall), Geraldine Brooks (Julie Demarest), Richard Basehart (James Caldwell Demarest), Jerome Cowan (Sen. Charles Caldwell), John Ridgely (Jackson Laidell), Patricia White (Angela, Maid), Rory Mallinson (Becket, Butler), Helen Thimig (Marta, Housekeeper), Paul Stanton (Davenport)
by Richard Harland Smith