J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

SFIFF ’16: Cast a Dark Shadow

Communication is important in a marriage, even if you are a gold-digging adventurer. Just ask Edward “Teddy” Bare. Upon learning his much older, richer wife was about to sign a new will, he helped the old dear to her eternal rest. Alas, the dearly departed Monica “Mony” Bare wanted to cut him in rather than out of the money. Bare finds himself in a tight financial spot, but he assumes his smarmy charm will continue to provide in Lewis Gilbert’s digitally restored British noir, Cast a Dark Shadow (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 San Francisco International Film Festival.

Bare is no gentleman, that’s for sure. Therefore, Mony’s snobby attorney Phillip Mortimer immediately suspects he staged her accident, which of course he did. Inconveniently, he stands to inherit dashed little under the terms of the original will. To make matters worse, he seems to have had a genuine affection for his late wife. In fact, his du Maurier-esque devotion to her memory will further complicate his second marriage to Freda Jeffries.

Jeffries is no Mony, that’s equally clear. She got her money marrying-up and she aims to keep it. Yet, despite her street-smarts, she fell for Bare and she is still swoony for him, in her own tough-talking way. When Bare befriends yet another single lady of means, it brings out her jealous nature. However, Bare will not let that deter him from Charlotte Young’s money.

It is rather baffling that Shadow is not more universally and volubly beloved by film noir fans, because it is a nifty little Deathtrap-style thriller. John Cresswell’s adaptation of the stage play Murder Mistaken by Janet Green (who would later serve as screenwriter on several of Dirk Bogarde’s “social issue” films) keeps the basic six-character, one-set structure, but opens it up a little. As a result, we get a night club scene featuring former Ted Heath band vocalist Lita Roza’s sly, swinging rendition of “Leave Me Alone.”

Bogarde played plenty of sociopaths in his career, but few were as sleazy good fun as Teddy Bare. He is clearly all kinds of off, but still perversely charismatic. Yet, Margaret Lockwood constantly calls and raises him as the brassy Jeffries. Mona Washbourne is indeed naively charming as dear old Mony, but Kathleen Harrison is a little cringey as Emmie, the easily manipulated housekeeper.

Jack Asher (who would become a regular early Hammer Horror cinematographer) gives it a wonderfully sinister noir look that should delight genre fans. Every piece of bric-a-brac perfectly sets the mood and gives us the right sense of place. Again, it just seems bizarre Cast a Dark Shadow does not get more love from the noir establishment. Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates classic cinema, it screens Saturday (4/23) and Sunday (4/24) during this year’s SFIFF.

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