Cause for Alarm!


1h 14m 1951
Cause for Alarm!

Brief Synopsis

A woman fights to intercept a letter in which her husband tries to prove her guilty of murder.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Mystery
Thriller
Film Noir
Release Date
Feb 23, 1951
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Beverly Hills, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on a radio play by Larry Marcus (broadcast undetermined).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 14m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

Housewife Ellen Jones worries about her husband George, who has changed dramatically since being bedridden with a heart condition, and wonders if the tempermental and depressed George will ever return to his former self. Although George, a former Air Force pilot who married Ellen during World War II, is quite ill, he exaggerates his symptoms and accuses her and his best friend, Dr. Ranney Grahame of not helping him. Unknown to either Ran or Ellen, George is secretly writing a letter to the district attorney, warning that Ellen and Ran are trying to kill him. When he has a brief attack, George begs Ellen to get another doctor, but because George has treated all of the other doctors so badly, only Ran will come. Despite George's accusation that Ellen deliberately delayed calling a doctor, Ran dismisses his concerns and suggests that he might want to consult a psychiatrist to help him avoid the morbid thoughts with which he is preoccupied. Later, when Ran and Ellen are alone, he tells her that George must go to the hospital to prevent his depression from worsening. She is distraught, knowing that George only wants her to attend him and seems to take violent dislikes to other people, but promises to talk to George. After chatting outside with Billy, a friendly neighborhood child who dresses like television cowboy Hopalong Cassidy, Ellen is startled to see George at the window. George denies having gotten out of bed, then accuses her of being in love with Ran and wanting him dead. Although hurt, Ellen believes the illness is making George so distrustful, and goes downstairs to make his lunch. As soon as Ellen leaves the room, George continues his letter, embellishing it with details that further incriminate Ellen. After lunch, George says that he is feeling better and asks Ellen to mail a letter that contains some insurance papers he has worked on for his office. Because Mr. Carston, the mailman to whom Ellen gives the letter, has seen George at the window, Ellen immediately goes to his room and begs him not to risk his health. George swears that the mailman was mistaken, then relates a strange story from his childhood about a time he beat up a neighbor boy who tried to touch one of his toys. Later, when his mother made him apologize and give the child the toy, George relates that he deliberately dropped and broke the toy rather than letting the other boy have it. This story and his expression of satisfaction that the destroyed toy would always be his frightens Ellen. George then confesses what he wrote in the letter and reveals that the medicine he supposedly spilled the day before, requiring her to re-order the prescription too soon, will seem incriminating. He then threatens to kill her and grabs a gun he has been hiding under the blankets. As she pleads, he suddenly has a heart attack and dies, still grasping the gun. Stunned and afraid when the phone rings and it is the pharmicist inquiring about the prescription, Ellen does not tell him about George's death and is almost incoherent in her explanation. Now fearful that everything she has done will seem incriminating, just as George had predicted, Ellen realizes that she must get the letter back and rushes through the neighborhood, trying to find Carston. Although Carston is initially willing to give her the letter, which she says should not have been mailed, he refuses to relinquish it when he realizes that was from George, rather than her, and tells her that only a supervisor in the downtown office can give it to her. When Ellen returns to the house, George's indulgent aunt, Clara Edwards, is inside, having unlocked the door with a key that she found with a neighbor's help. Ellen is extremely agitated and Clara only agrees to leave without seeing George after Ellen tells her that the visits upset him. Ellen then changes clothes so she can be presentable at the post office and decides to get the gun out of George's hand. It is stiff and she has to pull it out, discharging a bullet. As she is about to leave, Mr. Russell, a public notary, arrives and tries to force his way in to see George, indicating that George had demanded he come that day, no matter what his wife said. Russell does finally leave, but Ellen now fears that he will be another witness against her. At the main post office, the superintendent says he can give her the letter back, but policies about forms and other types of scrutiny that would require George's signature upset Ellen so much that she leaves empty-handed. When she arrives home, Ellen remembers that Ran was supposed to stop by again and calls him not to come. Because he is out making house calls, he does not get the message and arrives almost immediately. She tries to get him to leave by saying that another doctor has been there, but he guesses that George is dead. After Ellen breaks down and tells him everything, Ran finds the gun and the bullet hole in the floor. He then tries to calm her down and tell her that George's mind was going. When the bell rings, she fears that it is the police, but it is only Carston, who returns the letter, admonishing that there was postage due on the thick letter and it could not be delivered. Ellen cries hysterically after Carston leaves and is comforted by Ran, who burns the letter. Calm now, she hopes that someday she can forget what has happened.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Mystery
Thriller
Film Noir
Release Date
Feb 23, 1951
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Beverly Hills, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on a radio play by Larry Marcus (broadcast undetermined).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 14m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Articles

Cause For Alarm


The postman only had to ring once to throw Loretta Young into a panic in Cause for Alarm, a 1951 domestic noir directed by Tay Garnett, the man behind one of the all-time great films noirs, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). Made as the old Hollywood was dying to be replaced by the new world of television, the film pointed to Young's successful move into the infant medium.

Young was at a career crossroads in the early '50s. Although still under 40 and widely acclaimed for her performance as a nun in Come to the Stable (1949), she was having trouble finding suitable roles in the face of changing times. With Cause for Alarm, she took a chance on a smaller scale film combining the film noir genre with a form of dramatic realism currently on display in European films of the era. To play a housewife victimized by an invalid husband who's been driven mad by the wrong heart medication she did away with glamour makeup and wore dresses straight off the rack. Of course, small scale at MGM still meant the best of everything. The film was shot by Joseph Ruttenberg, who would win his fourth Oscar® for the Technicolor confection Gigi (1958) and scored by rising young composer Andre Previn, another four-time Oscar®-winner.

The story had originated as a radio play that, like the classic radio drama Sorry, Wrong Number, unfolded in real time as its leading lady tried to intercept a letter that wrongly but convincingly accused her of her husband's murder. The often-underrated Young had generated similar tension two years earlier in The Accused (1949), as a college professor trying to cover up a murder committed in self-defense but under suspicious circumstances. She was aided greatly in the current film by co-writer Mel Dinelli, who also had written the suspense classic The Spiral Staircase (1946), and Tay Garnett, a master at just about every genre he tackled. In addition to his film noir credentials, he had also triumphed with such noted female-oriented dramas as Her Man (1930), with Helen Twelvetrees; One Way Passage (1932), with Kay Francis; and Mrs. Parkington (1944), with Greer Garson.

Shot quickly and economically, Cause for Alarm anticipated Young's coming success in television, a medium she would enter with her series A Letter for Loretta in 1953. The anthology series would reaffirm the popularity she seemed to have lost on the big screen while also bringing her three Emmys for her performance in a variety of roles, some of the best as harried housewives living through unbearable tension in 30-minute episodes.

Cause for Alarm anticipated her television success in more than just style and compactness, however. Garnett would become a regular director on the series as he, too, moved into the new medium. Husband Tom Lewis, who also produced and co-wrote this film, would serve as writer and producer on the series. And supporting actor Bruce Cowling, cast here as the doctor with whom her husband thinks she's having an affair, would guest star on the series six times.

Cause for Alarm did well at the box office, as did many of MGM's low-budget thrillers of the period. But it wasn't enough to rejuvenate Young's film career. After only four more features -- including another strong feminist thriller, Paula (1952) -- she would retire from the screen in 1953, never to return.

Producer: Tom Lewis
Director: Tay Garnett
Screenplay: Mel Dinelli, Tom Lewis, based on the story by Larry Marcus
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Arthur Lonergan
Music: Andre Previn
Cast: Loretta Young (Ellen Jones), Barry Sullivan (George Jones), Bruce Cowling (Dr. Ranney Grahame), Margalo Gillmore (Mrs. Edwards), Irving Bacon (Joe Carston, Postman), Regis Toomey (Patrol Car Policeman), Kathleen Freeman (Woman), Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer (Boy).
BW-74m. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller
Cause For Alarm

Cause For Alarm

The postman only had to ring once to throw Loretta Young into a panic in Cause for Alarm, a 1951 domestic noir directed by Tay Garnett, the man behind one of the all-time great films noirs, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). Made as the old Hollywood was dying to be replaced by the new world of television, the film pointed to Young's successful move into the infant medium. Young was at a career crossroads in the early '50s. Although still under 40 and widely acclaimed for her performance as a nun in Come to the Stable (1949), she was having trouble finding suitable roles in the face of changing times. With Cause for Alarm, she took a chance on a smaller scale film combining the film noir genre with a form of dramatic realism currently on display in European films of the era. To play a housewife victimized by an invalid husband who's been driven mad by the wrong heart medication she did away with glamour makeup and wore dresses straight off the rack. Of course, small scale at MGM still meant the best of everything. The film was shot by Joseph Ruttenberg, who would win his fourth Oscar® for the Technicolor confection Gigi (1958) and scored by rising young composer Andre Previn, another four-time Oscar®-winner. The story had originated as a radio play that, like the classic radio drama Sorry, Wrong Number, unfolded in real time as its leading lady tried to intercept a letter that wrongly but convincingly accused her of her husband's murder. The often-underrated Young had generated similar tension two years earlier in The Accused (1949), as a college professor trying to cover up a murder committed in self-defense but under suspicious circumstances. She was aided greatly in the current film by co-writer Mel Dinelli, who also had written the suspense classic The Spiral Staircase (1946), and Tay Garnett, a master at just about every genre he tackled. In addition to his film noir credentials, he had also triumphed with such noted female-oriented dramas as Her Man (1930), with Helen Twelvetrees; One Way Passage (1932), with Kay Francis; and Mrs. Parkington (1944), with Greer Garson. Shot quickly and economically, Cause for Alarm anticipated Young's coming success in television, a medium she would enter with her series A Letter for Loretta in 1953. The anthology series would reaffirm the popularity she seemed to have lost on the big screen while also bringing her three Emmys for her performance in a variety of roles, some of the best as harried housewives living through unbearable tension in 30-minute episodes. Cause for Alarm anticipated her television success in more than just style and compactness, however. Garnett would become a regular director on the series as he, too, moved into the new medium. Husband Tom Lewis, who also produced and co-wrote this film, would serve as writer and producer on the series. And supporting actor Bruce Cowling, cast here as the doctor with whom her husband thinks she's having an affair, would guest star on the series six times. Cause for Alarm did well at the box office, as did many of MGM's low-budget thrillers of the period. But it wasn't enough to rejuvenate Young's film career. After only four more features -- including another strong feminist thriller, Paula (1952) -- she would retire from the screen in 1953, never to return. Producer: Tom Lewis Director: Tay Garnett Screenplay: Mel Dinelli, Tom Lewis, based on the story by Larry Marcus Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Arthur Lonergan Music: Andre Previn Cast: Loretta Young (Ellen Jones), Barry Sullivan (George Jones), Bruce Cowling (Dr. Ranney Grahame), Margalo Gillmore (Mrs. Edwards), Irving Bacon (Joe Carston, Postman), Regis Toomey (Patrol Car Policeman), Kathleen Freeman (Woman), Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer (Boy). BW-74m. Closed captioning. by Frank Miller

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Actress Loretta Young provides a running voice-over narration for the film, as her character, "Ellen Jones" thinks about the events that are happening in the story. Actors John Hodiak and Will Geer were included in early Hollywood Reporter production charts, but neither were in the completed film. Hodiak was to portray "Dr. Ranney Grahame," a role taken over by Bruce Cowling a week after filming began, and apparently reduced after Cowling was cast. A Hollywood Reporter news item on April 21, 1950 noted that Regis Toomey was to have a featured role, but he was not in the picture. Another news item noted that director Tay Garnett was loaned to M-G-M by Thor Productions.
       According to an M-G-M press release, the studio received special permission from actor William Boyd to use his "Hopalong Cassidy" image and references to his popular television series of the same name. The series, which was initially broadcast from June 24, 1949 through December 23, 1951, remained in syndication for many years and was one of the medium's first large-scale successes. In Cause for Alarm!, the character played by child actor Bradley Mora, is dressed in a Hopalong Cassidy costume, calls himself "Hoppy" and makes several references to the character's popularity on television.
       Although an April 18, 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Cause for Alarm! marked the 100th feature film appearance by character actor Irving Bacon, Bacon had actually appeared in more than three hundred films prior to 1950. Many of the film's exterior scenes were shot in Beverly Hills, CA, north of Wilshire Blvd. Producer and co-screenwriter Tom Lewis was married to Loretta Young at the time of the film's production. Lewis also produced Young's popular NBC television series Letter to Loretta (later known as The Loretta Young Show), which ran from 1953 through 1961 and often featured Young in roles similar to "Ellen" in Cause for Alarm!

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter January 29, 1951

Completed shooting May 11, 1950.

Released in United States Winter January 29, 1951