Saturday, November 10, 2018

Stubs - Shadow on the Wall

Shadow on the Wall (1950) Starring: Ann Sothern, Zachary Scott, Gigi Perreau, Nancy Davis, Kristine Miller, John McIntire. Director: Patrick Jackson Screenplay by William Ludwig. Based on the novel Death in the Doll's House by Hannah Lees and Lawrence P. Bachmann (New York, 1943). Produced by Robert Sisk. Run Time: 84 minutes. USA. Black and White, Crime, Drama, Film Noir

In the late 1940s, film noir was a big deal in Hollywood. So much so that it seemed every studio was making them, including MGM. To make Shadow on the Wall, they borrowed Gigi Perreau from Samuel Goldwyn, Zachary Scott from Warner Bros. and Kristine Miller from Paramount. Gigi Perreau was a childhood star having begun in pictures when she was only two with a role in Madame Curie (1943) since she could already speak French. She would appear in several films, including Mr. Skeffington (1944), as the child of Claude Rains and Bette Davis.

Shadow on the Wall was the only Hollywood film directed by British director Patrick Jackson. After this film, Jackson would return to England where he would eventually direct television. Perhaps the best-known being Danger Man (Secret Agent) and The Prisoner. Production on the film began on April 11, 1949, and continued until the middle of May.

The film opens with Susan (Gigi Perreau) playing with her dolls in her New York City apartment under the supervision of her nanny. Her mother, Celia (Kristine Miller), is not at home. Unexpectantly, her father David (Zachary Scott) returns to town after a brief business trip to Seattle. Like he does every time he comes back from a business trip, David has a gift for her; an Indian doll. She names the doll Cupid since he’s holding a bow and arrow. In addition, he has brought back some souvenirs he’d been given from World War II, including a Nazi flag, a Nazi cap, and a small handgun.

Celia, meanwhile, is with her lover, Crane Weymouth (Tom Helmore), who also happens to be the fiancĂ© of Celia's sister, Dell Faring (Ann Sothern). Crane wants them to come clean but Celia isn’t ready.

David is getting ready for dinner that night. Susan has a boy who is a friend of hers over so he could watch David shave since he doesn’t have a father himself. When David goes to take him home, he sees Celia and Crane together in his car.

Upon his return, he acts like he doesn’t know and asks her where she’s been. She tells him that she had been at a Broadway matinee with a female friend of hers. He acts like he wishes they could be alone, knowing that Crane and Dell are coming over for dinner.

When the two men are alone, David quizzes Crane about the Matinee performance and Crane bites, admitting that he was with Celia but trying to keep with what he thinks is the cover story she told David. This bit of news comes as a surprise to Dell, who has apparently been lied to. Dell develops a headache and Crane has to take her home.

David (Zachary Scott) confronts his wife Celia (Kristine Miller) about her affair with Crane, her sister's fiance.

When the two of them are alone, David angrily confronts Celia. He’s going to put the gun away but as the argument heats up, Celia panics and knocks him unconscious with a heavy hand mirror she’s holding when he gets too close.

Fearing he might shoot her, Celia knocks him unconscious with a hand mirror.

Soon afterward, Dell returns to the apartment to confront Celia, but Celia thinks she’s killed David and asks her sister to help her. Dell checks David out and determines that he’s only unconscious. The gun David had been holding is lying on the floor and Celia asks Dell to take it away. Dell places David's gun in her coat pocket and accuses Celia of stealing her fiancĂ©. As her anger rises, Dell reaches into her coat pocket and fires the gun at Celia, killing her instantly.

Dell (Ann Sothern) comes back to also confront Celia about Crane.

Just then, Susan enters the bedroom, sees her parents lying on the floor, sees a shadow on the wall, and screams. Celia throws the gun on the floor and flees. David eventually regains consciousness momentarily but is still out when the police arrive.

Susan sees a shadow on the wall.

He is later tried for the murder of his wife, found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in only a few weeks. Because he is unable to remember what happened after he was knocked unconscious by his wife, David accepts the verdict and resigns himself to spending the rest of his life on death row.

A jury of his peers finds David guilty of murder in the first-degree.

Dell, who watched the trial in silence, continues to suppress the truth about the murder. She goes so far as to write a confession letter but then chickens out and doesn’t send it. She tears it up and lets the pieces be washed away in the gutter.

Susan (Gigi Perreau) gets psychological help from Dr. Caroline Canford (Nancy Davis).

Meanwhile, Susan, who has developed psychological problems after seeing her mother dead, is placed under the care of psychiatrists Dr. Hodge (Pierre Watkin) and Dr. Caroline Canford (Nancy Davis) at Children's Hospital. Caroline tries to comfort her by bringing her the Indian doll her father had gotten her, but Susan wants nothing to do with it. Susan is haunted by the image of something but she can’t put it into words.

The image that haunts Susan casts a similar shadow to the outline of Cupid, her Indian doll.

Studying Susan's play through a one-way mirror, Caroline begins to suspect that there may have been a third person in the bedroom when Susan entered it. Dell eventually learns about the details of Caroline's examination of Susan and Caroline’s plans to take Susan to see her father.

Dell watches and then tries to disrupt Susan's therapy session.

Caroline arranges for David to meet with Susan in the warden’s house. He tries to convince Susan that he’s sick and is going to get better but, in the meantime, she’ll be safe with “Aunt” Caroline.
Fearing that the truth may surface, Dell tries to disrupt the therapy and when that doesn’t work attempts to silence Susan by poisoning her chocolate milk. The plan fails, however, when Susan accidentally spills the drink rather than drinking it.

Caroline puts Susan to bed in a hot bath to try to comfort her.

Dell will later sneak into the hospital and try to drown Susan after she’s been left to sleep in a warm bath to calm her. That attempt fails as well.

Dell gains legal custody from David, who doesn’t suspect her motives. Dell plans to take Susan out of the hospital and to her vacation home in Connecticut.

Caroline, however, objects to the trip because she believes that Susan is close to identifying the mysterious person who was in the bedroom at the time of the murder. She tries one more time and takes Susan back to her old apartment. Caroline and Dr. Hodge try to re-enact the fight between her parents but it doesn’t seem to work. Forced to comply with Dell's wishes, she and Dr. Hodge drive Susan to Dell's country home.

Dell turns on a light that just happens to cast the same shadow as she had at the murder scene.

Just as Caroline and Dr. Hodge are about to leave, Dell turns on a porch light, which casts her shadow onto the side of the house. Susan screams when she recognizes the shadow as being the same one she saw in her parents' bedroom on the night of the murder. Dell then makes a complete confession, after which David is exonerated and released from prison.

Reunited at the hospital, David promises that they will see Aunt Caroline again.

The film got generally good reviews, as an example, The New York Times praised the acting and the writing, pointing out Nancy Davis as “beautiful and convincing”, Gigi Perreau as “excellent”, Zachary Scott as “realistic”, Kristine Miller as “competent” and Ann Sothern’s performance as a “polished portrayal”. Made on a budget of just more than $700,000, the film actually lost money, approximately $330,000 during its first release.

Usually, you don’t associate film noir with small children playing a major role but this is not a new facet, see The Window (1949), in which a boy witnesses a murder. Like that film, the young witness becomes the target of the killer. And as with The Window, while the killer tries, no harm actually comes to the child. Hollywood was not ready for that to happen. Gigi Perreau is a good child actor, but never really made a big splash as an adult actress. She would appear in such films as Bonzo Goes to College (1952) and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956).

Child actress Gigi Perreau plays Susan in Shadow on the Wall.

Someone else you don’t associate with murder is Ann Sothern, an actress best known at the time for her role as Maisie Ravier in MGM’s long-running Maisie series of 10 films from Maisie (1939) to Undercover Maisie (1947) and a spin-off radio series The Adventures of Maisie (1945-1947 on CBS and again in 1952) on Mutual. Sothern would also appear in a couple of musicals as well as A Letter to Three Wives (1949), a romantic drama at 20th Century Fox. Still, no one would have expected her to play a murderer. It might have been this casting that might have worked against the film when it was released. Audiences might not have been ready for that sort of change. However, it is a role she plays well.

Also due praise is Nancy Davis, the future Mrs. Ronald Reagan and First Lady of the United States when he was elected President. She had only appeared in a handful of films by this time. 29 years-old when this film was made, she is pretty and is good in the role of Dr. Caroline Canford. She would appear in one more film noir in her short career, Talk About a Stranger (1952). But she is probably best remembered for her years in the Reagan White House as for any film she made.

For the most part, this isn’t as bad of a film as losing money when first released might suggest. While not great film noir, it is a pretty good story and pretty solid though not spectacular acting. The surprise casting of Ann Sothern as the killer might not resonate with modern audiences, neither should that work against the film.

Be sure to check out our Film Noir Review Hub for reviews of other films in this genre.

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