Cause for Alarm!

Brad Morrow (as Bradley Mora) and Loretta Young in Cause for Alarm! (dr. Tay Garnett, 1951).

Gripping psychological thriller about a young housewife terrorized repeatedly by a psychotic eight-year-old who thinks he's Hopalong Cassidy. Seriously, about a quarter of the movie is this kid bugging Loretta Young for a cookie handout. They have scenes together that go on so long you're sure it's going to end up being relevant to the rest of the story in some way, but ... nope. Just endless footage of nice lady talking to cute little boy in cowboy suit, for your viewing enjoyment.

Then there's the main plot about Young's physically and mentally ill husband, Barry Sullivan, who thinks she's conspiring with his doctor, Bruce Cowling (her ex-boyfriend), to kill him. When his heart gives out and he croaks, she must scramble to get back the letter he's just sent to the DA, which lays out the supposed murder plan. This involves prolonged arguments with the postman (Irving Bacon) and other locals that do generate a fair level of Hitchcockian suspense, tempered by frustration with this woman for being such a nitwit. There's a bit at the end, involving the doctor and an ashtray, that almost tips things over into wicked brilliance, except that it's pretty clear it wasn't intended to.

I enjoyed this movie a lot more than this report is making it sound. Its value as cinema per se is null, except as an illustration of how much entertainment can be generated with a miniscule budget and an utter lack of visual imagination (it was adapted from a radio play, and you could probably follow it just fine with your eyes closed). Although, when I think about, the brightly lit suburban exteriors and cramped TV-set interiors do have a certain appeal: everything looks slightly washed out, self-critically aware, veering towards irony. Even if it's only me projecting these things on it, it's a modest pleasure.

1 comment:

LBJ said...

What a movie!

I came in about half-way through. I never missed having the back-story though- everything is right there on the surface.

It can cut either way. Is her husband crazy to believe that she's trying to kill him, or is he just picking up on her secret wishes?

In order to make us believe that (an innocent) Mrs Jones might believe that the flimsy evidence her husband cooked up could convict her, everyone works hard to create Kafka, California

And in the end, somehow, the relief she feels just increases our sense of unease.