Shadow On The Wall, 1950. 7/10

Interesting semi-film noir. David Starrling (Zachary Scott) thinks he’s killed his wife Celia (Kristine Miller), but in fact it was his step-sister Dell (Ann Sothern) who did the deed. Celia’s been having an affair with Crane (Tom Holmore), who’s Dell’s fiancee. And then Dell and Celia are sisters. Pretty complicated stuff all the way around.

It gets worse, or better, from a twisted noir psychological perspective, since David’s young daughter Susan (Gigi Perreau) witnessed the murder, but repressed the memory. Thanks to Nancy Davis’s psychiatrist character Dr. Caroline Canford, Dell will have to kill again if the girl remembers what happened. Meanwhile, David’s in the hot seat. Kind of strange to see Scott as the noirish wronged man; he’s usually the slimy guy. In fact, of course, he’s taken to be the culprit.

One aspect of a plot like this involves the killer’s behavior right after the murder. Obviously, Dell is in a jealous rage, shu not a hardened killer–so there’s initial remorse and panic. But we know she’s not going to the police, or speak up in court (we’ve got to have a story, afterall).

The murder-inducing dinner party comes the night of Celia’s deception earlier that day–she was hanging out with Crane when she claimed to be with a female friend. David knows the score, and he and Celia have it out. To Dell, her sister is taking her guy away from her. She just pops in as David’s lying unconscious from Celia’s whack with a mirror. Sibling rivalry unlimited “Its my time to live! It’s my time to live!” Dell tells Celia, offing her with David’s gun.

Dell does feel bad, but then goes out to get her hair done. Neat halluncinaion of the beautician’s chair turning into an electric chair. Followed by Susan remembering literally a Shadow On the Wall–that is, the silhouette of the killer, which is definitely a woman. It’s interesting that Dr. Caroline has Susan in effect reenact the night of the crime with dollhouse stuff–a motif that we see in the first scene. Dr. Canford deduces that Susan indeed saw something that night.

David’s attorney has been in touch with the Doc. Unwittingly, Caroline lets on to Dell that Susan has new information. Suddenly, Dell has a problem; that is, Susan’s memory. Dell’s secret is leaking out; she ditches incriminating evidence. Oh, man, she has to sit in on Susan’s memory-recovery session with Caroline. It’s pretty agonizing for Dell. Caroline tells her “perhaps well we’ll discover new evidence. Anyway, we’ll know in time.”

Poison! Mixes it with Susan’s chocolate milk. She’s not dumb; it tastes bad so she won’t drink, then it spills. It seems Caroline shadows Dell. Her indian doll is key, because, with its traditional outfit, it’s got a feather in its headband like the shadow Susan saw that night. Things are coming to a crescendo, as Dell wants to take Susan up to a remote country house. Meanwhile, Dells skulking about the hospital, and enters Susan’s room…

Red alert. She almost drowned in her sleep, thanks to Dell. Now, it’s the country house Plan B. Strangely, David’s attorney Pike (John McIntyre) argues against the possibility of new evidence (that Caroline’s been unearthing from Susan). Caroline’s last throw of the dice is to go back to the house where the murder occurred and do “play therapy with a vengeance.” Finally, Caroline begins to suspect Dell. Susan is definitely agitated, but there’s no tangible giveaway.

So, Caroline and Pike take her to Dell’s. Shazam, it’s evening and there’s a shadow (the same as the night of the murder) on Dell’s wall. So Susan fingers Dell, and she confesses. That does it. Next scene, David, back in gear, picks up Susan from the hospital to really take her home.

Something didn’t feel altogether complete about Shadow On The Wall. It does flow pretty well, the performances are good (especially Sothern’s fine manic evil), the plot hangs together, the atmosphere works (good memory/hallunicatory stuff), but there’s a missing piece. It’s Scott. After the crime, he’s only rarely seen. I know, what’s he going to do in prison that’s interesting–eat bugs like Steve McQueen in Papillon?

The plot does hang together; but dumping the antagonist off-screen isn’t the best idea. Why railroad David so quickly? Sure, he should be a suspect, but maybe make it tougher to pin guilt on him. It would be better if the shooting occurred when both couples were present. That would at least provide more suspects. Even if David is jailed, why aren’t there any scenes of his attorney visiting with him to hash things out? As it happens, we never see him question his guilt.

David’s early shunting to the side does give Susan and Caroline more scenes. They were very effective, not only individually, but especially together. One bit that didn’t add up was Dell not tossing every hat she had with a feather; afterall, she’s forewarned about the danger of looking or appearing like she did that night, the hats should’ve been with the rest of her dump run.

This is entertaining, there’s lots to like; it just seemed to be a bit less than the sum of its parts. Farmermouse liked all the doll-sized doodads–just right for his rodent place, so he gives this seven glasses of chocolate milk. 7/10.

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