Noir City Film Festival was devoted to a "gothic noir" double bill: two films loaded with atmosphere, featuring Victorian settings, "ill" women trapped in creepy old houses by oppressive husbands, and of course, mysterious murders. The films were introduced by Alan Rode. First up: SO EVIL MY LOVE, starring Ray Milland, Ann Todd, and Geraldine Fitzgerald, which was filmed in England by Paramount British Pictures.
We first meet missionary Olivia Harwood (Todd) on an England-bound ship from Jamaica, where she was recently widowed, circa 1900. Olivia's enjoyment of standing on deck during rough, dangerous weather suggests the inner wild streak under her demure widow's weeds.
Olivia meets charming Mark Bellis (Ray Milland) on the ship when she nurses him through a high fever. When Mark recovers he is strangely concerned about what he may have said while delirious, and when he hides from police when the ship docks, we know he's up to no good.
Mark turns up at Olivia's shabby home, where she is taking in boarders to make ends meet. Although he's broke, he immediately sweet-talks Olivia into giving him room and board, then sets about seducing her -- though he's got another girlfriend (Moira Lister) on the side. Olivia falls for Mark completely, and before you know it she's borrowing money from an old school friend, Susan (Fitzgerald), so she can give it to Mark. Then Mark suggests a more lucrative way they can make money, involving theft and blackmail...
The story is much more convoluted than the above, with Susan's disturbed husband, art theft, and other intrigue all rolled into the plot, eventually leading to a murder...or two.
The film is extremely compelling, building to a jaw-dropping conclusion which caused the theater audience to gasp and then applaud appreciatively in amazement as "The End" came on screen. I have to say I am not likely to seek this film out to watch again, simply because it's unremittingly dark, but as a one-time thrill ride of sorts, I definitely recommend it. It has tremendous dark Victorian atmosphere, great shadowy cinematography, and is a unique film in many ways.
The lead performances are excellent, including Todd as the woman who willingly sets aside her morals and allows her life to spiral out of control in order to try for a chance at love. Milland seemed to switch with ease from playing romantic heroes to murderous villains -- the latter most notably in DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954). The audience is never quite certain exactly what Mark's feelings for Olivia really are -- but then, as Mark admits, he doesn't know himself.
Fitzgerald is particularly good at playing frail, emotional types, such as Isabella in WUTHERING HEIGHTS. She is quite touching as the scared rabbit of a wife who is overly fond of alcohol as an escape from her stifled existence. The scene where her girlish excitement at going to dinner in a new dress is crushed is quite moving, as is her final scene.
The audience applauded the first appearance of Leo G. Carroll as Jarvis, a wily private investigator. At first the audience is inclined to root for the story's antiheros, Mark and Olivia, as we want Olivia to escape her dreary existence and find happiness; thus, Jarvis almost seems like the villain when he first appears. But as Mark and Olivia's plot explodes and we come to realize their mutual evil, Jarvis represents justice to the audience, and -- rather like John Williams' inspector in DIAL M FOR MURDER -- we expect that he will make things right.
The cast also includes Raymond Courtney, Martita Hunt (GREAT EXPECTATIONS), Hugh Griffith, and Finlay Currie. The film runs 112 minutes.
SO EVIL MY LOVE was directed by Lewis Allen, who also directed Milland's great "haunted house" film THE UNINVITED (1944). The cinematographer, Max Greene, worked in Britain where his credits included several Anna Neagle titles.
SO EVIL MY LOVE is relatively difficult to find. It's not available on DVD or VHS. (Update: Check out the comments for a link to a DVD.) It might turn up on Turner Classic Movies, as they are licensing more Paramount films this year, but Paramount titles on TCM are still few and far between.