SHADOW ON THE WALL(director: Patrick Jackson; screenwriters: William Ludwig/from the story “Death in the Doll’s House” by Lawrence P Bachmann & Hannah Lees; cinematographer: Ray June; editor: Irvine Warburton; cast: Zachary Scott (David I. Starrling), Ann Sothern (Dell Faring), Barbara Billingsley (Olga, maid), Helen Brown (Miss Burke, house nurse), Nancy (Reagan) Davis (Dr. Caroline Canford), Tom Helmore (Crane Weymouth), Gigi Perreau (Victim’s daughter, Susan Starrling), Kristine Miller (Celia Starrling), Anthony Sydes (Bobby), John McIntire (Pike Ludwell); Runtime: 84; MGM; 1950)
“A taut suspense yarn.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A taut suspense yarn in B&W, that plays like film noir. David Starrling (Zachary Scott) is a wealthy architect, living in a penthouse apartment, who has a cute 6-year-old daughter Susan (Gigi) by his deceased wife. His new wife Celia (Kristine) is very attractive, but Susan hasn’t warmed up to her. David lovingly gives Susan a doll called Cupid as a coming home present and gets his wife perfume. Susan says: “She doesn’t like perfume because it smells.”
When David returns home after a six-week absence, his daughter gleefully greets him, but his wife is not there. When David is in his building’s lobby he sees his wife kissing his sister-in-law’s fiancé, Crane Weymouth (Helmore), after being driven home.
That evening Crane and Celia’s sister, Dell Faring (Ann Sothern), come over for dinner and David catches the two in a lie about where they were that day. Dell is upset that her sister is having an affair with her man and excuses herself from the dinner engagement.
Later on in the evening the spat continues between David and Celia, as he walks toward her with a loaded gun. She is fearful he’s going to shoot her, so she knocks him out by hitting him with a mirror. Meanwhile, Dell has returned to the apartment to talk with her sister and tells her that she hates her for always taking away everything she has always wanted. Celia tells her we’ll talk about it in the morning and gives her David’s gun, afraid to keep it in the house when David regains consciousness. By accident Dell kills her sister, as the gun goes off. This awakens the little girl in her bedroom next door, and she comes into the darkened room and sees the shadow on the wall of a lady wearing a hat with a feather. It reminds her of her new Indian doll, Cupid. Susan’s screams bring the police and David is charged with the murder. He doesn’t remember a thing but is convinced he must have killed his wife. He will be convicted and sentenced to the electric chair.
Meanwhile Susan has become shellshocked and walks around in a stupor. She is being treated by a child psychologist, Dr. Caroline Canford (Nancy Davis), who is trying to get the child to play pretend games in order to remember what happened that night so that she can clear her psychic blockage and return to her normal self.
Dell, fearful that Susan will regain her memory, unsuccessfully tries to poison her, then drown her while she sleeps in a specially prepared water bed in the hospital used to cure her nightmares. When that attempt also fails, she becomes her legal guardian and removes her from the hospital. But when dropped off at Dell’s fancy Connecticut home by Dr. Canford, Susan sees her shadow on the wall and once again screams.
This villain role is out of character for the always sweet Ann Sothern, but she shows great agility in handling the difficult role. The melodramatic script was often not believable and the action part of the story looked like pretend acting, just like the therapy Nancy Davis was applying to Gigi. But the stars pulled this one together and made the tense story, revolving around the little girl, seem plausible. Gigi Perreau was marvelous, giving a convincing performance as a little girl who could be both adorable and then almost frightened out of her mind.
REVIEWED ON 8/3/2000 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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