Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Thriller Watch: Cause for Alarm! (1951)

Watched:  07/27/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Tay Garnett

Much like Beware, My Lovely, also written by Mel Dinelli, Cause for Alarm! (1951) feels like it could have been a play just as easily as a film.  The action takes place in a very limited amount of time, in very few locations, and resolve not abruptly, but quickly and fairly completely (minus a body or two).  And, a very small cast.  I think there's maybe 8 characters with speaking parts, if that.

I try to keep up with Noir Alley on TCM anyway, but you can do far worse than Loretta Young as your star.  I'll categorize the movie as noir because, hey, Eddie Muller had it on his show, but like Beware, My Lovely, it feels more like a straight thriller than particularly noir, either from an aesthetic or thematic standpoint.  

Loretta Young plays a housewife, married to an ailing Barry Sullivan.  The doctor is Sullivan's best pal, who was why Young and Sullivan met (and may carry a torch for Young, as you do).  Now, Sullivan's condition is 1 part physical - his heart is giving out - and 8 parts mental - he's a paranoid delusional with a heaping dose of jerk.  While Young runs around trying to keep the house and her bed-ridden husband in working order, Sullivan has concocted a fantasy that Young and the doctor are having an affair.  And for this.. he will punish them.


After Young delivers a letter to the pain-in-the-ass mailman (Irving Bacon), she is both held at gunpoint by her husband and informed the letter was for the DA, explaining how the doctor and Young are murdering him and making it look like an accident. 

He then promptly has a heart attack and dies.

The rest of the film is Young running around trying to intercept a letter and USPS personnel being dicks about it.  I don't know if this is what really happens, but I am betting that if you caught the mailman three streets over after you personally handed them a letter and said "can I have it back?" as no one could possibly know this occurred, they'd hand it back.  But not here.

But rule-stickler mail carriers aren't her only problem.  There's a young, cowboyed up neighborhood boy who has found he gets attention from Young, and so keeps showing up, now unwanted.  And, Sullivan's sweet aunt, who just wants to check in and give some homespun perspective.  Which makes her seem awful in the context of the movie, but... 

Anyway, it's not thematically deep, and kind of hits several variations on the same note repeatedly.  But it is a fascinating snapshot of the role of wife in 1951 and what would seem normal as restrictions to Young's character in the era, which seem kooky today.  It's also a portrait of a marriage that's at least emotionally abusive.  

Unlike other films, Young's character isn't street smart and she's been domesticated a bit into helplessness.  Honestly, even with the letter retrieved (a happy, TV-friendly twist), she's left such a mess behind her that any police investigation is going to look suspicious, letter or not.  *Especially* if she did decide to hook up with Doctor Doctorson after the events of the film.

Anyway, it's a fun little bumper car ride and a nerve-jangler, and does what it sets out to do.  And everyone in it plays their roles to perfection, from Hoppy to Young.  

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