Monday, July 15, 2013


Sherida has arrived in Cornwall to take a job as secretary for a writer, Leah, who produces gushy inspirational poetry under the pen name Faith Hope. Leah is confined to a wheelchair; years ago, she saved two of her stepchildren from drowning but her legs were crushed and she's been crippled ever since. Sherida finds the family quite friendly, especially Leah's gentle husband Mallory, but soon Leah begins to suspect that something is going on between Sherida and Mallory. It's not, but once Leah's jealous fuse has been lit, it can't be put out. As two of her stepchildren, Logan and Jane, make plans to marry their sweethearts and leave the house, Leah hatches her own plans to meddle in their affairs to keep them at home, or as one character says, keep her "band of slaves intact." Then she plants a seed in the mind of her youngest, Christine, about the dalliance she imagines between Mallory and Sherida, leading Christine to put an overdose of sleeping powder in Sherida's water. Slowly, Leah's plotting becomes evident to all, but they may not be able to undo all her damage.

A gothic melodrama in the vein of DRAGONWYCK, GUEST IN THE HOUSE, and UNCLE SILAS, this plays out in a lower key than the above films but it still generates some thrills along the way. One big plus is the atmosphere; it's set in a big old mansion on a cliff with crashing waves below (think THE UNINVITED, also set in Cornwall) and the dramatic outdoor settings are used well. The film was crafted specifically for Susan Peters (above left) who plays Leah; she was a starlet whose career was taking off when she was paralyzed in a hunting accident in 1945. This film was to have been her comeback, and she's quite good in the role, underplaying both the character's inner sinister nature and her outer vulnerable appearance. Sadly, she made no other films and died four years later. The other actors are fine, especially Alexander Knox as the husband, the handsome Ross Ford as Logan, Diana Douglas as Catherine (a free-spirited artist and Logan's lover, pictured with Ford), and Ron Randall as Simon (the family doctor and the object of Jane's affections). Sherida (Phyllis Thaxter) and the two daughters don’t make as much of an impact, partly (for me) because they're not as well differentiated as the rest—the three young women look and act alike: dark hair, attractive, and vivacious (except when Leah has them under her thumb). The story takes a while to get going; there's a lot of exposition laid out in long dialogue scenes during the first half-hour before things really get going. But this movie definitely deserves to be better known than it is. [TCM]

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