Friday, May 13, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Shadow on the Wall (1950) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

SHADOW ON THE WALL (1950) is an engrossing MGM crime film available from the Warner Archive.

I enjoyed this film on TCM back in 2010, and with the recent passings of cast members Kristine Miller and Nancy Davis Reagan, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the movie via the Warner Archive DVD.

Talented child actress Gigi Perreau plays Susan Starrling, who witnesses the death of her stepmother Celia (Miller). Susan's adored father David (Zachary Scott), who had been knocked out cold by his wife just prior to her death, is convicted of the murder, but the killer was actually Celia's sister Dell (Ann Sothern), who had just learned that her fiancé Crane (Tom Helmore) and Celia were having an affair. Unfortunately Susan is in such a state of shock that she doesn't remember what she saw the night Celia died.

Dr. Caroline Canford (Davis), a psychiatrist, works with Susan to overcome her trauma and unlock her suppressed memories of what really happened the night of the murder. And that's something Dell must prevent at all costs.

SHADOW ON THE WALL is a very well-done, engrossing film, with a fine cast. Scott, who so often played sleazy villains, is heartbreaking here as a man devastated first by his new wife's infidelity and then at his separation from his beloved daughter.

It's surprising to see Sothern as a murderess, but it's a nuanced role; after David's conviction Dell intends to tell all to the police, but she becomes so terrified by the prospect of being executed that she doesn't follow through. Instead, she finds herself on an increasingly evil path, driven by self-preservation.

Davis is particularly fine as a warm, intelligent doctor trying to break through to Susan. It's probably her best role among the handful of films in which I've seen Davis. There's also a nice part for the always-reliable John McIntire as David's friend and lawyer.

Miller, seen below at the left, has a small yet notable role as the murdered wife. Her very different demeanor and a slightly changed hairstyle almost make it hard for me to recognize her as the same actress who played Kathy, Arthur Kennedy's loyal sister, in the previous year's TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949).

The large cast of SHADOW ON THE WALL also includes Barbara Billingsley, Helen Brown, Jimmy Hunt, Anthony Sydes, and Thomas Browne Henry.

SHADOW ON THE WALL was directed by Pat Jackson, who passed away in his native England in 2011.

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

The stylish cinematography was by Ray June. Some shots utilizing multiple mirrors at the murder scene must have been particularly challenging to set up.

The background score is by Andre Previn, who was all of 21 years old when the movie was released.

The movie runs 84 minutes.

The Warner Archive DVD includes the trailer.

March 2019 Update: I had the pleasure of seeing Gigi Perreau introduce this film at the Noir City Film Festival.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Blogger KC said...

Oh wow, I never would have guessed that was Kristine Miller in both roles. I guess I never really took note of her name when I watched this one. You couldn't have two more different parts!

8:00 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

It's almost as though even her voice was different. I really have trouble connecting her as the same actress, which is fascinating since they were made so close in time!

Best wishes,

8:59 PM  
Blogger GWM4GAM said...

Shadow on the Wall is one of my favorite films noir. Gigi Perreau is superb as the traumatized Susan. I interviewed Gigi for my forthcoming book Cries in the Night: Children in Film Noir (BearManor Media 2022) - Robert Strom

4:40 PM  

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