Cause for Alarm

An intelligent script and tightly realized tension eventually fizzle with an anticlimactic ending; still, Cause for Alarm is an interesting little "B" noir.

Cause For Alarm

D: Tay Garnett (1951); with Loretta Young, Barry Sullivan, Bruce Cowling, Irving Bacon, Margalo Gillmore, Carl Switzer.

George Jones (Sullivan) is sick in bed with an undisclosed heart ailment. His wife Ellen (Young) waits on him hand and foot, but when he worsens she calls Dr. Grahame (Cowling), an old war buddy of Jones‚ for a house call. Jones fantasizes that Grahame and his wife are having an affair and are plotting to kill him; he writes a letter to that effect to the District Attorney, then takes an overdose of his heart medication. In a rage, he confronts his wife with a revolver and tells her about the letter, then drops dead. Ellen then has to recover the letter and try to clean up the whole mess, but nothing goes right. The revolver goes off when she tries to pry it from her dead husband’s hand. The mailman (Bacon) refuses to hand over the letter, since postal regulations state that a letter can only be returned to the person that wrote it. Ellen gets no further with the postal supervisor, then has to stiff-arm a persistent notary sent to the house to go over some papers. Tay Garnett (The Postman Always Rings Twice) was a Hollywood old-timer whose career ranged from the silent days through television. He was a competent technician and no great visual artist, but interestingly, Cause for Alarm shows that overexposed exterior shots can be as oppressive as the slanting shadows and mean streets of noir. A heat wave adds to the film’s clammy claustrophobia, and the interiors of Jones’ comfy suburban tract home close in on Ellen as her options dwindle. Garnett drives the story like a locomotive through the film’s 74-minute running time, with hardly a frame wasted. Still, there are problems with this film: Young is a little too nicey-nice to carry a role in which other noir actresses like Ida Lupino, Audrey Totter, or even Marie Windsor would have been better suited. George Jones (oh man, you gotta love that name) goes a little too abruptly from being mildly cranky to all-out nutcase; to his credit, Sullivan turns in a feverish, sweaty performance as the sick man. Bacon actually is about the best thing in the film as the chatty, self-important windbag of a mailman. The scene where Ellen tries to get the letter back while not letting her hysteria show has the viewer wishing she’d just make a grab for it and say, “Give me that goddamn letter already!” An intelligent script and tightly realized tension eventually fizzle with an anticlimactic ending; still, this is an interesting little “B” noir. Cause for Alarm is available on DVD as a double feature with Orson Welles’ The Stranger.

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Cause for Alarm, Tay Garnett, Loretta Young

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