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A CRY IN THE NIGHT (1956).

Throughout the '50s, 'socially-responsible' filmmakers loved to scare the holy screamin' bejesus out of the public with overblown fear-mongering about everything imaginable, from wide-scale terrors such as the nuclear bomb and rampant Communism, to community-sized problems like juvenile delinquency and unwanted pregnancy. With a solid cast at the helm, this Warner Brothers backlot B-movie follows in that hysterical tradition by boldly issuing a warning about sexual predators in our midst. Based on the novel "All Through the Night" by Whit Masterson (TOUCH OF EVIL), 17-year-old, post-REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE Natalie Wood stars as Liz, a pretty teen who visits Lover's Loop one night with her boyfriend (Richard Anderson). Their chaste petting is interrupted by a brutish peeping tom (Raymond Burr, a year before his PERRY MASON fame) who slugs Liz's date and hauls her back to the abandoned factory where he lives. But this slow-witted pervert picked the wrong victim, since Liz's dad (Edmond O'Brien) is a cop who soon has every officer in town on the case. Burr's hulking creep Harold Loftus is clearly positioned as the film's big bad villain, but O'Brien's wildly over-protective father is actually a more frightening creation. He's a hot-headed bulldog with a badge who's ready to blame everyone for his daughter's plight -- the boyfriend who was knocked senseless, the lazy cops on the job, Harold's domineering shrew of a mother (who, in the film's biggest laugh, has a framed photo of her beloved son that's scarier than any DMV mugshot!) -- instead of simply looking in the mirror. Brian Donlevy co-stars as the police chief who tries to restrain this violent, one-dimensional blowhard. The police procedural segments are strictly routine, with the most entertaining moments belonging to Natalie and Burr, who almost makes us sympathize with this mother-obsessed man-child. Shucks, he's just a 'slow' outsider who wants a girl of his very own, who'll eat the apricot pie usually reserved for his mom (nope, no underlying subtext there, folks). Ironically, Liz seems like a viable candidate, since she's too dumb to even check if a gun is loaded before brandishing it. There's moody b&w cinematography by John Seitz (who earlier proved his noir-chops with DOUBLE INDEMNITY and SUNSET BLVD.), unremarkable direction by Frank Tuttle (THIS GUN FOR HIRE), while David Dortort's blunt script hammers home its characters and intentions. This is also a prime example of Hollywood hypocrisy: while Burr's character is demonized for coercing and lusting after teenaged Liz, only a year earlier, 16-year-old Natalie had a casting-couch affair with 43-year-old director Nicholas Ray, which led directly to her career-making role in REBEL. Innocent girl, my ass!

© 2006 by Steven Puchalski.