Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Shadow on the Wall (1950)

SHADOW ON THE WALL is an excellent psychological thriller, notable for fine performances and stylish cinematography by Ray June.

Susan (Gigi Perreau) has repressed the traumatic memory of seeing her stepmother (Kristine Miller) killed by her aunt (Ann Sothern). Consequently Susan's adored father David (Zachary Scott), who was unconscious at the time of his wife's death, is convicted of the murder based on circumstantial evidence. Child psychiatrist Dr. Caroline Canford (Nancy Davis, later known as Nancy Reagan) works against time to uncover Susan's memories before David is put to death for the murder.

Gigi Perreau is quite remarkable as young Susan, and Nancy Davis does an outstanding job as the patient, professional doctor who slowly realizes Susan's father may not be a murderer. Scott, who sometimes played oily types, such as the villain in THE SECRET OF CONVICT LAKE (1951), is rather heartbreaking here as the man who realizes his lovely wife's infidelity and later must deal with the pain of being separated -- probably forever -- from his beloved daughter.

The role of villainess was not the norm for Ann Sothern, who is convincing as the woman whose first impulse is to confess all, but who gradually is drawn deeper and deeper into evil as she attempts to cover up her dark secret.

Pay attention to the clever opening credits sequence, which is nicely scored by Andre Previn, foreshadowing what is about to occur.

One scene, with a sedated child left alone in a hammock in a hospital bathtub, is jarring simply because it would never happen in today's safety-conscious (not to mention litigious) world. In that particular case progress would seem to be a good thing!

Gigi Perreau was born in 1941 and appeared in her first film, MADAME CURIE, before she was two years old. Her second role was playing Gloria DeHaven as a toddler in TWO GIRLS AND A SAILOR (1944). Gigi was part of a family of child actors which included sisters Janine and Lauren Perreau and brother Gerald Perreau, who was also billed in some films as Peter Miles (THE RED PONY). The siblings sometimes acted together in varying combinations in films such as SONG OF LOVE (1947), ENCHANTMENT (1948), FAMILY HONEYMOON (1949), and WEEK-END WITH FATHER (1951). One of Gigi's best-known films was MY FOOLISH HEART (1949). Fans of THE BRADY BUNCH may remember her as Greg's teacher in a memorable episode which also featured L.A. Dodgers star Wes Parker.

The black and white cinematography in this film is fascinating, particularly the bedroom scenes, which utilize mirrors in what must have been some very tricky shots. There is also a noirish use of shadows in key scenes. Cinematographer Ray June began working in the silents and accumulated over 160 credits between 1915 and 1958. He was nominated for the Oscar for ARROWSMITH (1931), BARBARY COAST (1935), and FUNNY FACE (1957).

The supporting cast includes John McIntire as Scott's attorney, Tom Helmore as Sothern's faithless fiance, and Barbara Billingsley (LEAVE IT TO BEAVER) as a maid. This well-paced film runs 84 minutes.

SHADOW ON THE WALL was directed by Pat Jackson, a British director who will be 94 years old in a few weeks.

The screenplay was based on DEATH IN THE DOLL'S HOUSE by Hannah Lees and Lawrence Bachmann.

This film has not had a VHS or DVD release. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.

For more on this film, see Jacqueline's interesting analysis at Another Old Movie Blog.

Update: SHADOW ON THE WALL is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive. My review of the DVD is here.

5 Comments:

Blogger Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks for the link. This was an interesting movie, with Scott and Sothern, as you say, taking roles that differed from what they were usually given to play.

4:41 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I loved your funny comments about the hot water bottles in the scene reviving the little girl, Jacqueline -- made me laugh!

It was an interesting change of pace to be rooting for Scott and against Sothern!

Best wishes,
Laura

8:45 AM  
Blogger KC said...

I'm so glad you wrote about Gigi Perreau, because I think she is one of the most underrated child actresses. I haven't seen many of her performances, but I was so touched by her in Enchantment and My Foolish Heart.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm glad you like her too, KC! I have always enjoyed her and would like to see more of her films in the future.

Child actors have been a particular interest of mine going back to when I was just starting out as a classic film fan. I used to painstakingly "collect" credits of actors like Gigi and her family, making notes on 3 x 5 cards -- it never ceases to amaze me how such information is now instantly accessible at IMDb.

Thanks for visiting!

Best wishes,
Laura

2:35 PM  
Blogger KC said...

I know--I used to spend so much time researching at the library. I still like to do that though. Nothing beats wading through a stack of movie bios!

5:10 PM  

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