Saturday, July 20, 2019

Shadow on the Wall

Another recent watch off the DVR was the Noir Alley entry Shadow on the Wall.

Zachary Scott plays David Starrling, a businessman who returns home a bit unexpectedly one afternoon from a business trip to his loving daughter Susan (Gigi Perreau) and second wife Celia (Kristine Miller). You'll note that I didn't use the word "loving" to describe the wife, which is because we find out that she might not be quite so loving. Celia, we learn, is seeing Crane (Tom Helmore), who is the fiancé of Celia's sister Dell (Ann Sothern)! David figures it out because when Crane brings Celia home, he parks to close to the apartment building and David seems the two of them making time.

Things get more complicated when David and Celia have guests over for dinner, who just happen to be... Crane and Dell! Celia had unsurprisingly lied to David about what she had been doing that afternoon, and David decides that he's going to ask questions over dinner that show he knows what Celia is really doing. Nobody in the room is very happy about it, and the first thing that results from is is Celia and David getting in an argument with him showing off his gun and Celia hitting him over the head with a mirror and concussing him. But then Dell enters Celia's bedroom and picks up the gun. During their argument, Dell shoots Celia dead with the gun she put in the pocket of her coat.

Little Susan walks in and sees her dead stepmother as well as a shadow with a feather that to her looks like an Indian toy that she has. Susan screams and becomes catatonic, reminiscent of the little girl in Them!. For fairly obvious reasons, David is the one arrested by the police, since it was his gun and nobody knew Dell was still there -- and Dell of course is not about to let on what she knows. David is put on trial, convicted, and sentenced to death.

Susan is sent to a children's psychiatric hospital, where Dr. Canford (Nancy Davis, since she hadn't yet married Ronald Reagan) tries to draw out the memories from Susan's deeply scarred mind. Dell figures out what Dr. Canford is up to, and what it will mean for her once Susan regains those memories, and sets out trying to silence Susan for good.

Shadow on the Wall is a nice little film, one of those MGM programmers they started making around 1950 that are often more interesting than the big-budget prestige movies the studio was putting out. Although it's ostensibly a suspense movie, there's really not that much suspense since the constraints of the Production Code mean Dell isn't going to get away with murder. Still, Sothern actually does quite well with a rare villain part for her. Davis has yet another part where she comes across as a bit stern and matter-of-fact at first, but is really a kind-hearted character. This is a character type that she's always seemed to me to be quite good at playing. But it's really Gigi Perreau's movie, and she comes off as surprisingly natural for a child actress.

Shadow on the Wall is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

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