Monday, April 14, 2014

CAST A DARK SHADOW (1955)

Great opening: a close-up of a middle-aged woman in darkness, screaming, then quick shots of scary figures in the dark. It turns out that the woman, Monica (Mona Washbourne), is in a Tunnel of Love ride with her handsome and considerably younger husband Teddy—full name Edward Bare (Dirk Bogarde). Her lawyer is convinced that he married her for her money and counseled her to make a will leaving the house to him but her money to her sister Dora who lives overseas, but now she is ready to change her will to leave both the house and her money to him. Teddy finds out she's making a change and, thinking it will leave him out in the cold completely, kills her and makes it look like an accident. Of course, he winds up with just the house, so he goes on vacation looking for another rich meal ticket, which he finds in Freda (Margaret Lockwood), an attractive widow. She's on her guard, but thinking that he has a fortune, she marries him. He then begins plotting how to get her money. Meanwhile, a woman named Charlotte (Kay Walsh), new in the neighborhood, gets friendly with the couple, and maybe a little too friendly with Teddy, making Freda jealous, despite her suspicions about her new husband. Soon tensions between the three explode, but I can say no more about the plot except to note the satisfying ending.

Though I don’t see this as a film noir as some critics do, this is definitely a solid woman-in-peril thriller in the mold of NIGHT MUST FALL—young psychopath terrorizes older woman—but with a couple of interesting twists. The first is that Teddy misreads the situation in the beginning, leading to the murder of Monica—it's based on a play called Murder Mistaken; if he hadn't been so quick to assume, he would have been in clover for the rest of his life. The second twist is that Freda is no na├»ve and helpless damsel; she's aware that Teddy might have ulterior motives, and she goes into the marriage as something of an arrangement rather than "true love." The third twist is that there is more to Charlotte than meets the eye. The look of the film (inky shadows, odd angles) is probably what gets it called a noir, but Bogarde (pictured) is no anti-hero, he's a bad guy, plain and simple, though a charming one. He gives a strong performance, but Lockwood is every bit his equal. The only other notable performance comes from the reliable character actress Kathleen Harrison as Monica's (and then Teddy's) maid.  A very good thriller, recommended. [TCM]

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