Saturday, March 02, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Shadow of a Woman (1946)

SHADOW OF A WOMAN is a spiffy little suspense film about a bride who discovers her new husband isn't quite who he's cracked up to be. He's just cracked.

Andrea King plays Brooke Gifford, who tells her story in flashback to a police detective (Paul Harvey). Brooke was swept off her feet at a resort on the California coast by Dr. Eric Ryder (Helmut Dantine). They married, but after just a couple days of bliss, Brooke gradually begins to regret her whirlwind marriage, as Eric reveals himself to be a disturbed individual who has hidden critical information from Brooke, such as the fact he has a child.

When Eric takes Brooke to his gloomy San Francisco mansion, she meets the little boy (Larry Geiger) he'd neglected to tell her about. It's soon clear the boy is seriously malnourished, and there are plenty of other strange goings-on regarding Eric's relatives and his career. Brooke is made of sturdy stuff, however, and she begins to take steps to help those around her escape from her husband's control.

SHADOW OF A WOMAN has a touch of REBECCA to it, with a somewhat troubled man sweeping a reticent young woman off her feet at a coastal resort.  That said, it has even more similarities with another San Francisco based suspense film released five years later, THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL (1951). The films have enough in common that I checked to see if they shared any of the same writing credits or source material. They don't, but one wonders if this lesser-known Warner Bros. film nonetheless provided some inspiration for the later film from 20th Century-Fox. The SHADOW OF A WOMAN screenplay by Whitman Chambers and C. Graham Baker is based on a novel called HE FELL DOWN DEAD by Virginia Perdue.

The two films share in common a whirlwind courtship, a gloomy San Francisco mansion whose residents don't welcome the new bride, a little boy who might be in danger, a helpful lawyer, repeated attempts on someone's life, an unsafe part of the home where it's possible to have a long fall to one's death...the films even share orange juice as a key plot device! The "spooky old house" or "Gothic noir" is a storytelling tradition, and surely there are a number of differences with THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL, but the commonalities are interesting to note.

Andrea King and Helmet Dantine had previously costarred in HOTEL BERLIN (1945). I thought King was quite good in the lead role. She believably takes her character from lovestruck bride, to a loving yet puzzled wife with more questions than answers, to someone who sees her husband with clear eyes and is determined to do something about him.

King was a striking actress who had some good supporting roles in films like THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU (1944) and THE MAN I LOVE (1947), with solid lead roles in films such as this and SOUTHSIDE 1-1000 (1950). She increasingly acted in television beginning in the '50s, continuing to appear on TV sporadically throughout much of her life, even appearing in a 1990 episode of MURDER, SHE WROTE. She was married for three decades and had a daughter. Andrea King passed on in 2003.

The Official Andrea King Website has many beautiful photos, including Andrea's personal collection of candid shots from the set of SHADOW OF A WOMAN. The site also has the information that King's role was originally slated for Alexis Smith, and makes a reasonable point that the story would have been stronger if the husband were less obviously creepy from the outset. Nonetheless, I found this short film entertaining and especially enjoyed her performance.

William Prince plays the attorney who initially seems to be a villain but turns into something of a knight in shining armor. Peggy Knudsen plays Dr. Ryder's ex-wife Louise, who desperately wants custody of their son. Lisa Golm and John Alvin play Dr. Ryder's sister and nephew, who are strangely acquiescent to his strange dietary notions. Richard Erdman, billed as Dick Erdman, plays a soda jerk who has some rather interesting information to share about Dr. Ryder's eating habits.

SHADOW OF A WOMAN was directed by Joseph Santley and shot in black and white by Bert Glennon. It runs 78 minutes.

This movie isn't out on DVD or video, but has been shown by Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is at the TCM website.


Blogger dfordoom said...

I've never heard of that movie but it sounds like I'd enjoy it.

2:39 AM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Thanks for review,Laura. It's funny but the only two films I have seen Andrea King in are this one and Hotel Berlin, and in both her costar was Helmut Dantine.
She was good.
I hadn't thought of the similarities to these other films.
I think Helmut's best role was in EDGE OF DARKNESS.

6:04 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

William Prince was sort of the rich man's John Beal. Good and attractive but not very compelling on screen.

8:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw this movie many years ago on TCM and thought it was extraordinary - very original. I couldn't stop watching. Helmut Dantine is as wooden as they come, in this film anyway, but that only seems to enhance his character. Such a shame it has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray. I would be first in line to buy a copy. Well done, Laura, for bringing attention to this worthy classic.

2:48 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all so much for sharing your thoughts! I appreciate it very much.

Best wishes,

10:26 PM  

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