Friday, October 19, 2012

Shadow of a Woman

Based on the title and the one-sentence synopsis that shows up on box guides or TV listings sites, Shadow of a Woman sounds like it should be a really intriguing movie. Sadly, after watching all 80 minutes of it, it doesn't quite live up to that, and you're left wondering what went wrong. If you want to judge for yourself, you can watch tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM on TCM.

Andrea King, one of those foreign actresses the studios were bringing over after World War II in an attempt to be fresh and new, stars as Brooke. At the beginning of the movie, we see her in a police station, where she's being questioned in the killing of her husband! So she tells them the whole sordid story in a flashback.... It's not too much of a flashback; only a couple of months maximum. Brooke, while mourning the death of her parents, meets Dr. Eric (Helmut Dantine). He sweeps her off her feet, and she marries him almost immediately. Stupid move. You'd think people would have seen enough movies to know that marrying impulsively like this is, probably nine times out of ten if not more often, going to end badly. (And since the story is told in flashback, we already know there's going to be a death.)

In this case, that means two or three nasty surprises, depending upon how you count them. The first one is that perhaps Eric isn't such a good "doctor" as he would have his patients believe he is. In fact, he's one of those "alternative" types in the days before the term "alternative medicine" was around. Dr. Eric believes that the key to good health and solving one's illnesses is the right diet and right living, except that here the "right diet" doesn't mean your traditionally balanced diet. One of Eric's patients has died, probably as a result of Eric's bad medical advice, and the patient's husband is understandably none too happy about it.

Oh, but that's not the only nasty surprise for Brooke. Wait until she finds out that Eric is a divorcé, and has a son by that first marriage. He wanted to marry Brooke more so that he could have a wife to raise the son, since there's a custody battle going on, and there's no way a single man is going to win that battle. Eric, for the meantime, is living with his sister and her son. She hates Eric mostly because Eric has practiced his brand of "medicine" on her son, with the results not being very good. It's about this point that we get Surprise #3. Eric's son has a trust fund, and when Brooke finds this out, she puts two and two together and start to wonder whether Eric really wants custody so that he can starve the kid to death and get the son's trust fund. Shades of Night Nurse in here.

Unfortunately, where Night Nurse is a hell of a lot of fun, Shadow of a Woman is a disappointing misfire. Brooke seems stupid for marrying Eric so quickly, making her somewhat tough to sympathize with. Eric's sister might be right about Eric, but she's so nasty, even to Brooke, that it's difficult if not impossible to have any sympathy for her. There's also none of the pre-Code touches that make Night Nurse so delicious. The idea of a diet quack ought to be not only interesting, but shocking for post-War audiences, especially when it's set against a backdrop of more normal people than the upper-class types in Night Nurse. But it doesn't quite deliver.

I don't think Shadow of a Woman has ever made it to DVD.

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