Pros: the four leading female characters, b&w cinematography
Cons: the ending is predictable (though not some twists before it), Robert Flemyng
Having looked at a number of novels adapted for the screen recently, I screened three movies adapted from stage-plays. In making a movie of the one-man play "Secret Honor," Robert Altman did not leave one room, though moving the camera around a lot and cutting a lot from shot to shot. In making a movie of "Gertrud," Carl Theodor Dreyer took the title character outdoors, to another apartment, and to a public festivity. The camera was not altogether immobile, but did not move much and there were only 89 shots in the 156-minute movie.
Much of "Cast a Dark Shadow," directed in 1956 by Lewis Gilbert, takes place in the sitting room of a largish English house, but the play is "opened up" not only with other rooms of the house, but starts with a carnival ride, has some scenes along a cliff, on a beach, in a night club, in a tea shop, in the house's drive(way), and in other parts of the house that belongs to Monica Bare (Mona Washbourne) at the beginning of the movie. A lot of it still occurs in the sitting room, including confrontation between Edward Bare (Dirk Bogarde) and his wife's solicitor, Philip Mortimer (Robert Flemyng) and tender words directed at Monica's rocking chair after her young husband kills her.
This happens early in the movie. Monica has summoned Philip to prepare a will. Edward does not know that she intends to revise her existing will so that he will inherit her fortune as well as the house, which is bequested to him in an existing will that he does not know exists. Afraid of being cut out by the will, Edward plies his wife (who is old enough to be his mother) with liquor and causes her to die (that is, does not directly do the deed). Philip is suspicious, but the coroner's inquest rules the death accidental. The devoted, somewhat doddering servant Emmie (Kathleen Harrison) found the body, not Edward.
Although he got away with killing his wife, Edward has no income and no liquid assets. Back at the beach resort (Brighton, I think), he connects with a woman of his own age who has recently been widowed, has considerable liquid assets, but no house. As played by Margaret Lockwood, Freda Jeffries is tougher and smarter than Edward seemed to have realized when he selected her. The genre expectation is that she will be his next victim, but, like Martha Raye in Chaplin's Bluebeard black comedy "Monsieur Verdoux," Freda is resilient, as well as vulgar.
When they first met, Edward was looking at a beefcake (male muscle) magazine. This is surely meant to suggest that he does not have much (if any) erotic interest in women, and is only after their money. When he later tells Freda that he wants to move into what had been Monica's bedroom, she will have none of that and tells him that she did not marry him for companionship (I wonder if the line survived the American censors who suppressed indications even of marital sex, not allowing even married couples to be shown in the same bed.)
And it seems a third rich prize appears on the scene. Charlotte Young (Kay Walsh) is looking for a large place in which to open an equestrian academy (Edward explains that to Freda). Seeking a kickback (he had been an estate agent before landing the boss' daughter), Edward squires Charlotte around, arousing Freda's jealousy.
I will go no further into the plot, not describing how the carefully set-up conflicts play out. There is one development that took me by surprise, though it was not the ending.
There are some noirish??or horror film??shots, including the opening with only the calculating eyes of Dirk Bogarde visible in what turns out to be a tunnel of love ride that his older wife much enjoys. Nightclubs are a locus classicus of noirs, but most of the movie takes place in the countryside, reminiscent more of "Night Must Fall," "The Leopard Man," and "Unsuspected" than urban noirs such as "Laura." The excellent black-and-white cinematography is credited to Jack Asher, an otherwise not particularly distinguished crafter of light and shadow.
Dirk Bogarde is in almost every shot, ranging from doting to conniving, from charming to frighteningly psychotic. Supposedly, he played wholesome roles, notably in a series of movies about young doctors, during the 1950s and threw away that career to appear as the married man blackmailed for a homosexual liaison in The Victim (1961), and this led to a series of edgy-to-morbid roles in artistic films by Joseph Losey (most notably "The Servant" and "King and Country"), Luchino Visconti ("Death in Venice"), Rainer Fassbiner ("Despair"), Alain Resnais ("Providence"), John Schliesinger ("Darling"), and Liliana Cavani "Night Porter"). Looking at "Cast a Dark Shadow" and the chronology of Bogarde films, it seems to me that this one marked the turning point from the charming good guy (which he was in "The Spanish Gardner" just before this), to the seeming interloper in "Libel" (1959), the total cad to whom Leslie Caron was devoted in (Shaw's) "The Doctor's Dilemma" (1958) and on into the viciousness of his characters in "Damn the Defiant" (also directed by Gilbert, in 1962), "The Servant" (1963), and so on. Indeed, Bogarde is brave and resolute in "The Victim" in contrast to the creepiness of many of his roles starting with that of Edward Bare.
To me, Margaret Lockwood was a woman on trains, most notably in Alfred Hitchock's "The Lady Vanishes" (1938, partnered with Michael Redgrave" and Carol Reed's (1940) "Night Train to Munich." She was also in Reed's (also 1940) "The Stars Look Down," and then apparently played a string of villain parts. In "Cast a Dark Shadow" she is a "tough broad," with some of the resentment Ida Lupino exuded in Hollywood noirs, but tougher (well short of "The Honeymoon Killers" brand, or Ann Savage in "Detour") and much, much funnier (funnier than Kathleen Harrison in the Cockney equivalent of Thelma Ritter roles). Apparently, Lockwood went on to being sweet in a British television series I've never seen, "The Flying Swan."
Kay Walsh was married to David Lean through the 1940s and received screenplay credit for Lean's "Great Expectations," as well as playing in "In Which We Serve, "The Happy Breed," and "Oliver Twist, all directed by Lean. She is excellent in the role of the potential third Mrs. Bare.
As is Mona Washbourne as the first one. The uxoricide is especially wicked in removing Washbourne from the scene (and screen). It provides some satisfaction that this dastardly deed accomplishes the opposite of the vile murderer's intent (that is, enriching himself). At the age of 54, despite her early demise in the course of "Cast a Dark Shadown," Washbourne' had many screen roles ahead of her, including in the remake of "Night Must Fall," "My Fair Lady," "If...", Nanny Hawkins in "Brideshead Revisited," and capped her career with meaty parts as Glenda Jackson's dotty but adorable aunt in "Stevie" and Jean Simmons's in "December Flower." (She made no movies when she was young, but was in there with Peggy Aschcroft, Edith Evans, and Jessica Tandy in being great playing old ladies, usually more endearing ones than those three's less sweet ones.)
I do not have much of a sense of director Lewis Gilbert's style or thematic interests. He is not an auteur like Hitchcock or Lean (both of whom left Britain), more a competent craftsman like Anthony Asquith (who directed Bogarde in ""The Doctor's Dilemma" in garish color and "Libel" in black-and-white). In addition to casting Bogarde in another even nastier turn in "H.M.S. Defiant," Gilbert directed Michael Caine as the very caddish Alfie, and decades later in "Educating Rita," and three installments of the James Bond franchise ("You Only Live Twice," "The Spy Who Loved Me," and "Moonraker"). And, although he was attached to the US Air Force during World War II, his war movies were all naval (in addition to "Defiant," "The Sea Shall Not Have Them" and "Sink the Bismarck!"). I don't see other murder mysteries, noirs, or tales of psychotics running amok in his filmography.
Whatever its genre is, "Cast a Dark Shadow" provided the first showcase for the soon-to-be familiar dark side of Dark Bogarde and for four excellent actresses working through a well-wrought plot, shot in ominous black-and-white.