Shadow on the Wall (1950)

Written by John Chard on October 1, 2017

Stupid Cupid?

Shadow on the Wall is directed by Pat Jackson and adapted to screenplay by William Ludwig from the story "Death in the Doll's House" written by Lawrence P. Bachmann and Hannah Lees. It stars Ann Sothern, Zachary Scott, Nancy Davis, Giggi Perreau and John McIntire. Music is by André Previn and cinematography by Ray June.

A nifty psychological hot pot this one. Story centers on a young child called Susan Starrling (Perreau), who after witnessing the murder of her step-mother, succumbs to amnesia. Which is inconvenient for her father since he has been convicted of the murder and sent down to await execution. Can determined psychiatrist Caroline Cranford (Davis) eek the truth out of Susan's troubled memory? Can the real killer ensure that that isn't the case?

It's a personal thing of course, but I have always found there to be something off kilter about doll's houses, and here we are greeted to an opening shot of one, superbly accompanied by Previn's ominous music, it's a perfect mood setter as to what is to come. Story lacks any mystery dynamic since we are privy to exactly what has gone on regarding the who, why and what fors, and in truth the outcome of it all is never really in doubt. So for although it's a thriller pic dressed up in film noir clobber, it doesn't have the verve or devilment to really be classed full bodied as such. But that's by the by, visually and the presence of a child in peril, with main character disintegration the key feature, puts it into noir lovers considerations.

Since the title features the word shadow it's no shock to find shadows and low lights feature prominently. The lighting effects are very striking, the changes in contrasts perfectly befitting the mood of certain scenes. Such as when dialogue is implying emotional discord, or the silent mindset of our antagonists, while a couple of neat shadow smother shots are killer narrative boosts. The main building of the piece is not the doll's house, but that of the hospital where Susan is receiving treatment, and at night photographer Ray June perfectly sets it up for peril and dastardly deeds. While we also get a bit of wobble screen to signify troubled mental confusion.

Cast range from adequate to very good. Honours go to Perreau, who is never once annoying, turning in an involving performance that has us firmly involved in her world, whilst Davis (the future First Lady Reagan) is very understated, where she gets a well written female character whose not relying on male dominance to expand the part. And with Jackson directing in an unfussy manner it rounds out as a pic worth seeking out. 7/10