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SHADOW OF A WOMAN (director: Joseph Santley; screenwriters: C. Graham Baker/Whitman Chambers/from the Virginia Perdue novel “He Fell Down Dead”; cinematographer: Bert Glennon; editor: Christian Nyby; music: Adolph Deutsch; cast: Helmut Dantine (Dr. Eric Ryder), Andrea King (Brooke Ryder), Paul Stanton (Dr. Norris), John Alvin (Carl), William Prince (David MacKellar), Larry Geiger (Ryder’s young son Philip), Peggy Knudsen (Mrs. Louise Ryder), Lisa Golm (Emma), Monte Blue (Police Lieutenant), Jack Smart (Freeman), Leah Baird (Mrs. Calvin), Becky Brown (Genevieve Calvin); Runtime: 78; rated: NR; producer: William Jacobs; Warner Bros.; 1946)
“A failure in every possible way.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A failure in every possible way. Joseph Santley flatly directs this film noir adapted from Virginia Perdue’s novel “He Fell Down Dead.” The script by writers C. Graham Baker and Whitman Chambers was lacking credibility. The acting was hammy and unconvincing. The film offered hardly any entertainment value and the irrelevant story was more of a turn off than anything else. On top of all that, there were serious gaffes in the plotline that filled the story with holes the size of craters. This postwar B-film melodrama reunites Hotel Berlin co-stars Helmut Dantine and Andrea King. Shadow of a Woman might be remembered by film buffs only because it played in an early restaurant scene “How Little We Know”, the Hoagy Carmichael song that Lauren Bacall sang in “To Have and Have Not.”

The film opens as Mrs. Brooke Ryder (Andrea King) tells her embarrassing story of woe via flashback to the chief of detectives in the police station. Brooke’s parents died four weeks ago and her family physician, Dr. Norris, suggested she take a vacation to relieve the strain. While at the beach in Monterrey, she meets a glib psychotherapist, Dr. Eric Ryder (Helmut Dantine), who wins the vulnerable woman over with his charm and solicitous behavior. She marries the stranger a week later.

Honeymooning at a posh Monterrey hotel, Brooke begins to suspect something might be wrong with her marriage when on the beach a boulder is pushed from above by an unseen assailant and narrowly misses her hubby Eric. He brushes it off as merely an accident, which strikes her as odd behavior. At another time Eric goes on a rant about M.D.’s, claiming they only harm patients and perform unneeded operations. When Eric spots a familiar face by their hotel, he hurriedly drags her away from their dream honeymoon spot and out races the car following him to reach his getaway cabin. Once in the cabin retreat, Brooke learns that he’s divorced and that his wife Louise is suing him for custody of their one-year-old son Philip. The other surprise is that in his main house in San Francisco, he allows his sister Emma and his limp cane walking nephew Carl to reside. If these surprises weren’t enough, a hunter named Freeman takes a rifle shot at him. Freeman’s wife was treated by Eric and died. He blames the doctor for her death, as she was filled with promises of a miracle cure when treated with his quack remedies and not allowed to see her regular doctor.

Back in his gloomy house in San Francisco, Brooke’s greeted with a chill by Emma and Carl. Becoming increasingly alarmed about her marriage, Brooke further learns that the man who pursued them in Monterrey and took their photo in their cabin retreat was his ex-wife’s lawyer David MacKellar (Prince).

Brooke takes a liking to Philip, but is concerned that Eric is systematically starving him to death by taking him off food and just giving him juice. Emma eventually explains her initial mistrust, as she thought Brooke was a fortune hunter. She tells Brooke that when the wealthy father of Louise’s died he left one dollar to both his daughter and Eric, obviously having contempt for them, but a million dollars in a trust fund to Philip. Therefore, whoever gets custody of the child will inherit the money if anything happens to him.

When Brooke retreats back to her own nearby residence, she learns that Eric never mailed a letter she asked him to post to Dr. Norris. She also learns that Eric’s patient Mrs. Calvin died because he mistreated her. Dr. Norris warns her to stay away from Dr. Ryder, that he has a reputation for being a quack doctor.

When David serves Brooke with a subpoena to appear in court as a witness in the custody case, not realizing that she married Eric and is not just having an affair with him, she decides she no longer loves her hubby and will help Louise get custody of Philip. The trouble with all these melodramatics is that everything was obvious and one would have to be a real bimbo not to see through the quack doctor immediately. Also, it seems odd that the film didn’t clearly explain how Eric got custody of the child. The acting was stilted; the story lacked proper tension, especially, since we already know that Brooke is safe after the opening scene. So when the film ups the ante and has Eric become a serial murderer and thereby Brooke’s life is now in danger, why should we worry when we already know the outcome! The story just never seemed to make sense and the characters never seemed real.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”