The Shrike

THE SHRIKE, “an innocent-looking bird who likes to impale her victim on a thorn,” is played in human guise by June Allyson in this 1955 drama, as the domineering wife of theatrical producer José Ferrer. Not strong enough to stand up to her manipulation, he’s eventually driven into a mental institution. Ferrer also directed the picture (and wrote theme music, uncredited), which he’d nursed as a project since producing, directing & starring in it on Broadway, nicking a Tony Award. Ketti Frings (Come Back Little Sheba, About Mrs. Leslie) adapted the script off the play, which won a Pulitzer Prize for Joseph Kramm. *

Allyson hoped the dramatic change-of-pace role as a harpy would take her out of the goody-goody groove that pleased audiences for over a decade but left critics dismissive and the capable actress frustrated. She’s fine, and Ferrer is good, but the public stayed away; the movie died at 145th place for the year, earning just $1,800,000.

Allyson: “‘June Allyson would never, ever put her husband in an insane asylum and leave him there. She’d at least get him out.’ We had to reshoot the end of the film [where] I went back to the insane asylum . . . So I could be good. So the public never accepted me as anything but the wife and the girl next door.” “But it was a challenge I could not resist. For years I had been the Perfect… And now…, I would be far from the perfect wife. I would indeed be a monster of a wife, one of the least attractive in the history of the theater. As it turned out, the picture was a wonderful flop, but I do not regret deciding to play the vixen, Ann Downs. Other than my personal satisfaction in making my own decision, The Shrike was fun, and I even dreamed vaguely of an Academy Award.”

Joy Page plays a sympathetic actress Ferrer turns to, and Edward Platt has a nice role as his brother. Some scenes were shot in Bellevue Hospital.

88 minutes, with Will Kuluva, Richard Benedict, Herbie Faye, Mary Hayley Bell, Nancy Kulp.

* Ferrer’s first time directing a feature film, followed by The Cockleshell Heroes, The Great Man, I Accuse!, The High Cost Of Living, Return To Peyton Place and the remake of State Fair. Except for the last two, he also starred in them. In addition to his other chores on The Shrike, Ferrer composed an excellent instrumental piece with the title. Uncredited in the film, it was later recorded in differing modes by Les Baxter and Pete Rugulo.

** Though The McConnell Story was a success the same year, after The Shrike‘s box office thud, Allyson went back into light material, but then they failed to spark—the next five were duds— and her career wound down into sporadic TV work. She wouldn’t be back on the big screen until a supporting role in 1972’s They Only Kill Their Masters.

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