Directed by Bob Clark (Porky’s 1981, A Christmas Story 1983) Screenplay by Roy Moore (She Cried Murder 1973 tv movie) Cinematographer Reginald H. Morris (When Michael Calls 1972 tv movie, The Food of the Gods 1976, Murder by Decree 1979, Phobia 1980, A Christmas Story 1983)
Reg Morris’ cinematography brings the shadowy moodiness that was the atmospheric style of When Michael Calls a suspenseful made for tv movie in the early 1970s. Cinematographer Albert J. Dunk created Billy’s POV shots by rigging up a camera harness that would mount the camera on his shoulder as he walked about the house and climbed the trellis and attic ladder himself.
Ironically, Clark who has created a deeply dark and disturbing tale set during Christmas, is responsible for one of the most authentically nostalgic, witty and whimsical tributes to Christmas, the most beloved A Christmas Story. For a director to create the most splendid narrative that reminisces about a more innocent time, it remains a huge cult indulgence every Holiday Season, as we all collectively love to watch Ralph maneuver through the obstacles in his way of getting a Red Rider BB gun. Darren McGavin is brilliant as his old man whose expletives are still floating over Lake Michigan, and the soft glow of electric sex in the window from that fabulously kitschy leg lamp. We’ve got one giving off that soft glow as I write this.
Black Christmasstars Olivia Husseyas Jess Bradford, Keir Dulleaas Peter Smythe, Margot Kidder as Barbara. Marian Waldman (When Michael Calls 1972 tv movie, Deranged 1974, Phobia 1980) as Mrs. MacHenry, Andrea Martin as Phyl, James Edmond as Mr. Harrison, Douglas McGrath as Sergeant Nash, Art Hindle as Chris, Lynn Griffin as Clare Harrison, Michael Rapport as Patrick, and John Saxonas Lt. Fuller. As an interesting note-Nick Mancuso plays the caller/intruder/psycho.
It’s that marvelous time again, when one of the most enjoyable Blogathons has come around, it’s the 7th Annual What A Character Blogathon. And the reason I adore it so much –it’s purpose is essential in paying tribute to the memorable character actors who have often added the sparkle to the cinematic sky of movie stars– they touch our lives so profoundly because of their unique contribution as the characters they bring to life!
I want to thank Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Paula Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club, and Kellee Pratt of Outspoken & Freckled. for giving me the opportunity to once again show my sincerest love for the actors & actresses who are so discernible within the art of film, television and theatre. It is their unforgettable performances that make it a much richer, a more compelling experience — as they are as much the stars who inhabit the dream of art because of their singular personalities.
I’ve been participating now for 7 years, and it’s always a great expedition to delve deeper into the career’s of the people who I’ve found the most enigmatic, extraordinary and uniquely engaging. This year I’ve been excited to pay special attention to two remarkable women, Eileen Heckartand Louise Latham.
For years I have always thought of these two women together, as one of those odd associations–yet unexplicable– that makes you put certain faces or impressions together in your head. Another example of two actors that often seem to merge in that vast noggin of mine — I’m always thinking of E.G.Marshall and Eli Wallach together. Heck, maybe, next year I’ll do the same double feature for them. As I adore them both!
It struck me that I should pair Eileen and Louise as a kind of sisterhood, for both of their uniquely extraordinary styles stand out and somehow stand together for me. And an interesting confluence happened as I went on my more intensive journey of discovering of these two fine actresses. I found out that Eileen Heckart and Louise Latham appeared together in a rare episode of The Doctors and The Nurses an hour long television medical drama that ran from 1962-1965. In a macabre tale reminiscent of a Robert Bloch story — the episode is called Night of the Witch, about a woman (Eileen Heckart) who is tortured by the loss of her 6 year old daughter, and seeks her own brand of retribution from the medical staff she believes is responsible. The hospital receptionist who is cold and unfeeling is portrayed by none other than Louise Latham. The fascination I’ve had to see this performance led me to hunt down a rare copy and now I own it and have put together a sample of it here for you. It’s a rather long clip of the episode in honor of them appearing together. It showcases both their talents. I hope you enjoy the excerpt And I am praying that the television series itself will someday find a full release as it is worthy of being re-visited for it’s groundbreaking content, incredible cast and performances.
As in past What A Character Blogathons, Burgess Meredith, Ruth Gordon, Agnes Moorehead, Martin Balsam, and Jeanette Nolan–each of these actors– had a way of elevating every single project they were involved in, making it just that much more fascinating, delightful, heart wrenching and unquestionably memorable because of their performance–no matter how small their presence, they changed the landscape and impacted the narrative.
It is my absolute honor this year to feature two of the most remarkable women whose legacy still lives on.
Dr. T.S. Clitterhouse-“The greatest crime of all!”‘Rocks’ Valentine-“What’s that?”Dr. T.S.Clitterhouse–“Why, Homicide naturally.”
Directed by Anatole Litvak (The Sisters 1938, Confessions of a Nazi Spy 1939, Out of the Fog 1941, Blues in the Night 1941, Snake Pit 1948, Sorry, Wrong Number 1948, The Night of the Generals 1967) With a screenplay co-written by John Huston and John Huxley. Based on the play by Barré Lyndon – Music by Max Steiner who lends a dark and dramatic flourish to the sinister & mordant essence of the narrative.
Cinematography by Tony Gaudio (The Mask of Fu Manchu 1932, Lady Killer 1933, The Man With Two Faces 1934, Bordertown 1935, The Story of Louis Pasteur 1936, The Life of Emile Zola 1937, The Sisters 1938, Brother Orchid 1940, The Letter 1940, High Sierra 1941, The Man Who Came to Dinner 1942, Larceny, Inc. 1942, Experiment Perilous 1944, Love From a Stranger 1947)
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse converges into several genres–black comedy with deadly dark overtones, crime drama, the gangster movie, suspense & psychological noir with classical horror elements evidenced by the duality of the schizophrenic hero.
Though absurd it’s an enjoyable Litvak’s direction, Huston’s screenplay and Gaudio’s arousing photography make it an enjoyable film to watch.
While watching Litvak’s film again, it suddenly hit me (smack between my green eyes) there is one significant trope that stood out so obvious, so clearly to me. Strange that I hadn’t realized it during my first viewing.
Dr. Clitterhouse is an archetypal Jekyll & Hyde figure, using his immersion into criminal activity rather than a smoky elixir to drink down his uneasy gullet, that would normally transform his outer appearance into a fiend, Clitterhouse still becomes transfigured as a criminal and a murderer by and because of his endeavors.
The story raises the question of the duality inherent in the protagonist J.T. Clitterhouse, where it is possible to tap into the dark side, the doctor diverges into a classical medical/science horror with personality traits being tainted by the evil/immoral tendencies that people are capable of. When exploring immoral activities that can ‘change a man’s personality’ there is always a fatalistic inevitability. The disambiguation of the situation-there are no horror props, no mysterious mad scientifically developed drug inducement– it is the single act, desire and curiosity of a scientist seeking answers concerning the criminal mind that literally subsumes the nature of the personality examining the questions. i.e. Dr. Clitterhouse becomes not a monster, but a criminal and ultimately a murderer.
Clitterhouse is seduced by the excitement he experiences, and embraces the darker side of himself without the use of a scientific ‘horror’ concoction. While presented as a gangster film, its conceptualization of medical/science experimentation on vicious human nature, aberrations in psychology and the criminal mind elucidates the clear philosophical themes of classical medical-science horror.
Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948) written by Barré Lyndon stars Edward G. Robinson as a phony mentalist haunted by greed and a sense of impending doom. Co-stars Gail Russell and John Lund.
Film genres’ lines were often blurred in the 1930s & 1940s, in particular a few of Edward G. Robsinson and Humphrey Bogart’s films which intersected with crime, noir and horror narratives. In particular director Delmer Daves frightening The Red House (1947) and director Julien Duvivier’s Flesh and Fantasy (1943) and Night Has a Thousand Eyes 1948 starring Edward G. Robinson.
Then Humphrey Bogart’s exploration into the diverging genres were apparent in The Return of Doctor X (1939), and The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) directed by Peter Godfrey.
Humphrey Bogart in The Return of Dr. X (1939) directed by Vincent Sherman
As far as science horror goes -from the opening edge of The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse -frames smoky bubbling flasks. Gothic science horrors would be replete with such laboratory paraphernalia.
Included in the fabulous cast of characters actors are many other beloved Warner Bros. stock players. Alan Jenkins as Okay, Donald Crisp as Inspector Lane, Gale Page as Nurse Randolph, Henry O’Neill as Judge, John Litel as the Prosecuting Attorney, Thurston Hall as Grant, Maxie Rosenbloom as Butch, Bert Hanlon as Pat, Curt Bois as Rabbit, Ward Bond as Tug, Vladimir Sokoloff as Popus.
The film Warner Bros. released in 1938 is an adaption of a British play performed on stage in London a few years earlier with Sir Cedric Hardwicke in the title role.
Apparently Edward G. Robinson wasn’t happy with his role in the film, and Humphrey Bogart like it even less, referring to it as The Amazing Dr. Clitoris. Both actors appeared in three other gangster films where they played adversaries –Bullets and Ballots (1936), director Michael Curtiz’s Kid Gallahad (1937) and Brother Orchid (1940).
Bogart felt that The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse was not advancing his career playing second fiddle to Robinson. Bogart would finally be taken seriously as a leading man in director Raoul Walsh’s They Drive By Night (1940) and High Sierra (1941) co-starring Ida Lupino.
The film stars the extraordinarily versatile every-man who can play it cruel and ruthless or unassuming and weak– Edward G. Robinson as Dr. Clitterhouse brings the perfect measure of seemingly invulnerable genius driven by his short-sighted crusade to study the criminal mind.
The film also stars the seductive and equally versatile actress Claire Trevor who won The Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as the tragic Gayle Dawn in 1948 for Key Largo (Dead End 1937, director Robert Wise’s Born to Kill 1947 co-starring Laurence Tierney, Raw Deal 1948, Borderline 1950 ) As the gutsy crime boss Jo Keller who heads a gang of lovable miscreants. Jo finds herself drawn to Clitterhouse, partly because he’s not the kind of man she usually runs around with.
Humphrey Bogart brings his gruff hardened criminal type and mean as spit ‘Rocks’ Valentine, whose implacable toughness cuts through Clitterhouse’s sterile academic objectivity in the narrative. The two clash at every turn, until the force of their conflict creates a final verdict.
Robinson, Trevor and Bogart would reunite ten years later in John Huston’s Key Largo (1948) their working chemistry manifests splendidly in the crime genre. While Key Largo is the grittier story, The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse lends these three stellar actors a playground to exercise their tremendous adaptability to any role.
Edward G. Robinson plays T.S. Clitterhouse an esteemed Park Avenue physician who is invited to some the city’s most affluent cocktail parties. What the polite set doesn’t know about their charming intellectual guest is that he is acting as cat burglar stealing fortunes in jewels (not for money, he is quite well off financially) but for the purpose of conducting his research and gaining insight into the pathology of the criminal mind and the physiological changes in the active criminal’s physical and mental conditioning during the commission of a crime which he hopes to publish in a medical tome that will help inform both psychologists and law enforcement.
To indulge in the criminal atmosphere to the fullest, he insinuates himself into the city’s toughest gang and the head of the organization that is able to fence such expensive quality jewels. Jo Keller (Claire Trevor) is the high stakes fence in charge of her gang of thugs and miscreants led by the gruff and vicious ‘Rocks’ Valentine (Bogart) The gang pulls jobs all the while trying to evade capture by one Clitterhouse’s acquaintances, Police Inspector Lewis Lang played by the wonderful character actor Donald Crisp (Jezebel 1938, Wuthering Heights 1939, How Green Was My Valley 1941, The Uninvited 1944.)
The film opens with dramatic music by Max Steiner, on the title screen there is a laboratory with smoking, bubbling flasks behind the credits to invoke the feeling of science, cut away to…
There is a woman singing opera as she is accompanied on a piano at a high brow cocktail party. The camera pulls back and through a window we see a flashlight and someone taking jewelry out of a safe, the flashlight is the only source of light in an otherwise pitch black room. During Mrs. Updyke’s party, it is Dr. Clitterhouse himself who manages to crack the safe full of priceless gems beating one of ‘Rock’s Valentine’s and Jo Keller’s gang to the vault. He examines the expensive jewels and loads them into his medical bag.
A second man, enters into the nearly black room. Later his identity is revealed as of a thief called Candy (Billy Wayne) who climbs into the already open window and Clitterhouse’s flashlight shines on his bewildered face. He is told to put his arms up and turn around and face the wall. He assumes that it is the police. Then Rocks Valentine (Bogart) appears in the window, and is stunned to see what’s going on — he ducks down then climbs back down to the ground.
Clitterhouse’s (Robinson) distinct voice in the darkness tells him to remain with his hands up, as the first intruder (Dr. Clitterhouse) leaves the room, opening the door, and moves toward the sound of the opera singer.
Dr. Clitterhouse appears amidst the guests now as the opera singer finishes her aria. Mrs.Frederick R. Updyke (Georgia Caine) tells him that she’s in good voice this evening- he humors her “Inspiring, simply inspiring Mrs. Updyke.”
As Clitterhouse has takes a snoot full of brandy and walks away rolling his eyes because the caterwauling vocalist has decided to grace the guests with another moving soprano rendition, he makes a phone call to check in with his service, he’ll be going to the hospital to check in on one of his patients soon. Suddenly he hears a scream from upstairs.
Apparently the maid has discovered the safe has been cracked. He remains on the phone calmly giving some prescriptive advice to his nurse, while the rest of the guests head toward the stairs like a herd of well dressed antelope. The maid, “A burglar -your jewels -he came in through the window.” While the guests and Mrs. Updyke are hysterical, Clitterhouse has an amused and knowing smile on his face, finishing his phone call composed and unaffected by the sudden chaos.
The next phone call Clitterhouse dials –police headquarters – “Hello, Good Evening, I want to report a robbery at Mrs. Frederick R. Updyke’s house.”
The third phone call Clitterhouse makes is for an ambulance– the butler has shot Candy one of Jo Keller’s gang and is now the suspected burglar. The comedy of Clitterhouse’s calm, collected and calculated phone calls is subtle and farcical.
Mrs. Updyke- “Are we all going to be frisked?” Officer-“Yes Ma’am I’m sorry.” Mrs.Updyke answers giddily–“Oh don’t apologize, I think it’s thrilling.”
Laying on the stretcher Candy who was shot in the shoulder insists he didn’t do ‘nothin’.Clitterhouse examines the bullet wound and Candy looks at him strangely and says “Say didn’t you and me meet someplace before?”
Clitterhouse’s pedigree shows-“I hardly think so.” Candy asks a guest standing over him –“Who is this fella?” The guest-“Why, Dr. Clitterhouse of course.” There’s a hand on Clitterhouse’s shoulder, the doctor looks up and it’s Inspector Lane (Donald Crisp) he looks up at him- “Oh, Inspector Lane, Isn’t this a prosaic case for you to be on?”Lane-“It may look like nothing to you, but I’m hoping it’s the end of all my headaches these last few months.” He tells the suspect Candy to hand over the ice, but Candy tells Lane he’s never seen any ice. “I ain’t got no ice on me, your dicks’ll tell ya.”Lane’s officers tell him that they searched him but found nothing. “I’m telling you I never saw it, I never had a chance, somebody beat me to it.” Lane asks him who he’s working with. “Just a lone wolf. What about Rocks Valentine?”Candy tells him-“I never worked,(knowing pause) Rocks who?”“Don’t act dumb you slipped that jewelry to somebody. Come on spill it.”
Lane instructs his men to search everyone, the servants and even the guests. Clitterhouse for a moment looks worried. Lane keeps interrogating the suspect, who insists there was somebody else in the room who was already going through the wall safe when he climbed in the window. “That’s on the level.”
Clitterhouse gets a call, he needs to be at the hospital already for emergency surgery. Lane even gives Clitterhouse a motorcycle escort. Clitterhouse takes his medical bag that was on the floor of the closet from the butler who was certain he had placed it on the shelf above when Clitterhouse first arrived. And as he walks out the —the butler pauses as he ponders a second thought at what just transpired. He knows the bag was on the top of the shelf before the robbery. Curious…
Clitterhouse evades Inspector Lane’s suspicion, all the while holding onto the goods in his medical bag which he brings with him to surgery. His devoted Nurse Randolph (Gale Page) finds the jewels and winds up discovering that it’s been Dr. Clitterhouse who is responsible for all the Park Avenue jewel thefts in order to conduct his research, where he records his blood pressure, pulse, pupil reaction, during and after he commits the crimes.
Nothing hints at the duality of Clitterhouse’s conscience and his Jekyll & Hyde personality more than this cross fade into the next scene. The psychological noir iconography of the mirror symbolic of the dual personae and his conscience represented by the police reflected in the glass.
In the surgical arena Dr. Clitterhouse is about to perform surgery on Counselor Grant who has a serious back problem. Clitterhouse is shown as a highly regarded surgeon having friends in high places, which is convenient for insinuating himself into the investigations for the 4 inexplicable robberies.
Dr. Clitterhouse tells him to relax and not be so jittery. The cantankerous and agitated counselor argues with Clitterhouse- “My dear boy I’ve had over a hundred clients face the electric chair I’ve never been jittery yet.” Clitterhouse-“But your clients were.” Clitterhouse needs his glasses and asks Miss Randolph to fetch his glasses which happen to be in his medical bag.
Nurse Randolph looks in the bag, while the counselor is giving Clitterhouse a hard time about him operating. Randolph finds the bag filled up with a glittering fortune of jewels, she has opened Pandora’s Box. Nurse Randolph watches as Clitterhouse discusses with another doctor how without the elliptical surgery on the counselor’s back, it might result in paralysis. “Oh Miss Randolph…(he sees her with the bag) What are you doing?… aren’t you getting my glasses?”“Yes indeed I have them right here.”“I’m sorry if you had any difficulty finding them?”“Not at all doctor only your bag was unusually full.” Counselor Grant (Thurston Hall) interjects. “Can I interrupt that big medical conference to ask for a cigarette” Clitterhouse-“Oh nurse you won’t forget to keep an eye on my bag.”
He’s already established that Nurse Randolph is an ally, who isn’t planning on turning him in. She is showing her loyalty and respect for him. Nurse Randolph will keep Clitterhouse’s secret.
Harry Lime (Orson Welles) to Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) “Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.”
You’re EverLovin’ Joey sayin’ I gotta go set my Cuckoo Clock, see ya soon!
Helen-(Claire Trevor)“If you go to the police, you’ll see Laury sooner than you think.”
Mrs. Kraft-(Esther Howard)“Are you trying to scare me?”
Helen-(Claire Trevor) “I’m just warning you. Perhaps you don’t realize, it’s painful being killed. A piece of metal sliding into your body, finding its way into your heart. Or a bullet tearing through your skin, crashing into a bone. It takes a while to die, too. Sometimes a long while.”
Holiday Carleton (Barbara Payton) to Ralph Cotter (James Cagney)“You only said one true thing in your life, and that’s when you said you were going away tonight. And you are. Many miles out of town and six feet under. All alone, with nobody to lie to. And you can kiss tomorrow goodbye.”
Your EverLovin’ Joey saying there’s no need for us to say goodbye, we’ll always have tomorrow!
The seductive Andrea Kingwas born France Georgette André Barry on February 1st, 1919 in Paris, before her mother relocated them to the United States.
Eventually she settled in Queens, NY. King eventually found her way to Broadway at the age of 13 where she performed between 1935-36 in Fly Away Home with Montgomery Clift. At the age of 18 she went to Chicago and worked in the Lilian Gish company’s Life with Father for two years. It was in 1944, that Warner Bros. signed Andrea King to a contract, her first bit part was as a nurse in a scene with Bette Davis in Mr. Skeffington, then she appeared in The Very Thought of You where as Molly Wheeler – she had to be bitchy to Eleanor Parker, which she joked she hated doing “Wait a couple of months baby and you’ll be making double dates with me just like we used to!”King was cast in small roles during the war. The Warner Bros. studio photographers voted Andrea the most photogenic actress on the lot for the year 1945, the year she starred in God is My Co-Pilot. Jack Warner who liked to name his new stars had wanted to change her name to Georgia King to Andrea’s horror she ran to friend director Delmer Daves and cried telling him it was awful, and sounded like a Mississippi burlesque queen!
Andrea King’s portrayal of the angelic and strong minded Julie Holden in director Robert Florey’s Gothic horror The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) was perhaps my introduction to King’s beautiful persona. Co-starring with Robert Alda a year before they were to act together in The Man I Love (1947).
Sophie Rosenstein the acting coach had taken a strong liking to Andrea and when she left Warner Bros. and went to Universal, a lot of roles opened up for Andrea at Universal.
Andrea King’s first major role as Lisa Dorn whom Andrea in an interview with TCM said was a wonderful part, a real leading lady– “She was evil and she was kind. She was two people all in one” in Hotel Berlin (1945) afterwards she played stylish often ‘mysterious’ leading ladies or supporting roles as the ‘bad girl.’
Finally King got bigger, glamorous lead parts and appeared in a cross section of genres throughout the late 1940s and 1950s. She is remembered for five significant film noir roles, Shadow of a Woman (1946), The Man I Love (1947) with the legendary Ida Lupino, Ride the Pink Horse (1947) starring and directed by Robert Montgomery, Dial 1119 (1950) with Marshall Thompson and the even lesser known Southside 1-1000(1950)with Don DeFore, that I decided not to cover at this time.
In the 1965 she appeared in The House of the Black Death, Prescription Murder (1968) tv movie and Daddy’s Gone A -Hunting 1969. Andrea King made the transition to television, most notably she appeared in the original 1953 broadcast of “Witness for the Prosecution” for Lux Video Theatre (1950) co-starring Edward G. Robinson. She worked well into the 1970s, (appearing in genres- horror & exploitation- where so many beautiful starlets inevitably roam-a subject I plan on writing about extensively in my piece “From Glamour to Trauma: Deconstructing the Myth of Hag Cinema in the not so distant future here at The Last Drive In) including appearing in the exploitation film Blackenstein 1973.
Directed by Joseph Santleywith a screenplay by Whitman Chambers and C. Graham Baker based on the novel “He Fell Down Dead” by Virginia Perdue. Cinematography by Bert Glennon (Stagecoach 1939, The Red House 1947, House of Wax 1953) Edited by Christian Nyby. Costume design by Milo Anderson.
The film stars Andrea King as Brooke Gifford Ryder, Helmut Dantine as Dr. Eric Ryder, William Prince as David G. MacKellar, John Alvin as Carl, Becky Brown as Genevieve Calvin, Richard Erdman as Joe, Peggy Knudson as Louise Ryder, Don McGuire as Johnnie, Lisa Golm as Emma, Larry Geiger as Philip, Monte Blue as Mike, J. Scott Smart as Timothy Freeman.
The fan mail poured in about the pairing of Helmut Dantine and Andrea King together in Hotel Berlin 1945 so they tried it once again in Shadow of a Woman.
Shadow of a Woman (1946) is an essentially creepy suspenseful film noir, at the center of the narrative is a small boy that is being starved to death in order for his father to gain the boys fortune. It predates the superior film noir chiller The House on Telegraph Hill (1951) directed by Robert Wise, but the moodiness and the story line are faithful to a familiar trope.
The film is Andrea King’s second leading role under Warner Bros. after her debut as Lisa Dorn the hapless German actress in Hotel Berlin (1945) which unites King with her good-looking Austrian co-star Helmut Dantine who had played the enigmatic wounded Nazi soldier who terrorizes Greer Garson in Mrs.Miniver in 1942.
The role of Brooke was originally turned down by Alexis Smith, so Jack Warner offered the role personally to Andrea King who does a knock out job as the new bride who has been duped by a psychopath to fit into his nefarious plans. Brooke never becomes hysterical and doesn’t buy into her controlling husbands insistence that she is just ‘tired’ or close to a ‘nervous breakdown’. It also doesn’t take her long before she rebels against him.
Andrea King stars as Brooke Gifford who marries an unorthodox doctor who passes himself off as a natural healer. Eric Ryder (Helmut Dantine) treats his patients with strict dietary restrictions and a dash of hypnotism as an extra measure, including a frighteningly rigid diet for his young son Philip, who is only allowed to drink orange juice. (Well… he won’t have to worry about scurvy but he might die of starvation, poor lamb.)
Eric begins to exude a more sinister nature. His son looks properly ghostly and malnourished, so Brooke tries sneaking him toast with jam just to fatten him up a bit and put color and a smile on his cherubic face. It was the end of WWII and Brooke was lonely, as she relates in flashback the story of her threatening mistake. The film deals with the backlash of women who needed to be independent during the war and then were quickly pulled back into the security of domesticity. The irony of the story is how the lonely Brooke winds up with the wrong man, divorced from his wife and obsessed with controlling his sons eating habits, hinting at the evil motive of starvation in order to gain power over his son’s financial legacy.
“I met him in Monterey four weeks ago, our family physician Dr. Norris had sent me there to avoid a nervous breakdown. I just lost my parents and having been with them through their long illnesses… well I was in a bad way, both mentally and physically… Perhaps you’re wondering why I happen to marry Dr. Ryder on such a short acquaintance… But he wasn’t like most men, he was solicitous and charming. I never asked questions who or what he was.”
Shadow of a Woman opens with Brooke relating the story in flashback to the police. It takes place in Post-War California. Andrea King plays the lovely Brooke Gifford Ryder who seeks the American Dream of marriage and a happy home life. She marries Dr. Eric Ryder (Helmut Dantine) after a quickie whirlwind romance. Until the shine of wedded bliss wears off and she begins to suspect that he is hiding a dark side of himself.
Ryder worked in a carnival as a hypnotist and passes himself off as some kind of nutritionist /holistic healer who treats his patients with rigid diets and hypnotizes them not to feel pain when it’s there to alert the body that something is wrong. Ryder considers conventional doctors to be butchers. His regiments include a frighteningly stringent diet for his young son which leaves the boy weak and looking like death is hovering. A few of his patients have apparently already died because they failed to seek outside medical care, when Ryder’s treatments make it too late to save them.
There is a moment of premonition when the newlyweds Brook and Eric ask a Gypsy Fortune Teller to read their palms, She smiles while reading Brooke’s future and she quickly recoils telling Eric she has nothing to tell him.
The newly married couple argue about doctors, especially the doctor who cared for Brooke’s parents who have recently died. There are so many cues that alert us to Eric’s malevolent scheming. When Brooke has written to the family physician Eric takes the letter and puts it in his pocket, telling her he’ll mail it. But we already get the sense that he has no intention of letting her seek outside consultation from another doctor.
At the opening of the film, while the couple are honeymooning , they noticed two men trailing them. Also Eric is almost killed when a boulder drops down and nearly hits him.
When Brooke recognizes the dog from the beach where the rock almost killed Eric, he calmly tells her, “Oh dear, you’ve been closer to a nervous breakdown, than I’ve realized.” He quickly gives her instructions to pack her things and leave at the back exit of the hotel. He decides that they should Honeymoon at his cabin in the mountains where it is more secluded.
Brooke and Eric’s whirlwind romance of a week feels like a baffling eddy, and from the beginning once she marries this mysterious handsome doctor, someone tries to kill him, and they are followed around by two men with a dog who are trying to snap photos of them. Eric’s ex-wife Louise has hired her lawyer and his photographer friend to try and catch Eric doing something that would help her custody case.
Only after they get married does Eric decide to mention on their honeymoon that he’s been married before and is in a nasty custody battle over his son Philip (Larry Geiger) with his ex-wife Louise (Peggy Knudsen –The Big Sleep 1946, Humoresque 1946, A Stolen Life 1946) What Brooke doesn’t know yet is that he has only married her in order to convince the court that he’s the better parent for his son.
Brooke realizes that she is living in the shadow of Eric’s ex-wife Louise who is trying desperately to gain custody of their little boy Philip. The romance between Brooke and Eric feels so impulsive and we wonder why such an apparently intelligent, strong woman would walk into a marriage with a man she doesn’t even know. Granted, she is recovering from the loss of her parents and the lack of eligible men. But immediately after the they wed, strange events emerge. Aside from the boulder that nearly crushes him on their honeymooning, while they now reach his cabin in the mountains, there is the matter of Timothy Freeman (J. Scott Smart) who’s wife died under Ryder’s care–who tries to put a hole in Eric with a shotgun.
They are once again followed in the car by the two men and the dog, while Eric drives recklessly fast in order to lose the tail. Which he manages to swerve around a construction vehicle up on the shoulder, the two men get stuck blocked by it, Eric has thwarted them.
When they almost crash losing the two men who have been tailing them, she asks him who they are, he denies knowing them, she tries to suggest something, but he immediately questions her state of mind. Eric coldly turns it around and makes it about Brooke’s mental state. Though Brooke never acts vulnerable, and is always on her toes, no matter how suspicious and dismissive Eric behaves.
We experience the story as Brooke continues with her voice-over.
Brooke- “What ever it was that he had seen in the window, had made him change his mind quickly.”
On the road. Brook- “Why all the hurry?”
Eric “Am I going to fast dear?”
Brooke- “Oh no, flying too low.”
David (Louise’s lawyer)-“I wish that cheap quack would go to sleep on one of these curves, save someone the trouble of killing him.”
Eric and Brooke go to his cabin in the mountains hoping to elude Louise’s lawyer. While settling into her bedroom, Brooke opens up a drawer and finds an assortment of women’s brushes and hair pins. Brooke’s face relates the worry that washes over her, as the questions start piling up.
Eric “Why don’t you like it here darling?” Brooke-“Well I’m not a prude but I’d feel better knowing that I was the first woman you brought here.” Eric- “So that’s what’s been bothering you… I don’t know how you found out but it’s true. I did let my wife use the cabin after our divorce.” Brooke says in a startled whisper-“Your wife!… I didn’t know.” Eric- “But you saw it on our marriage application. I thought it was very tactful not to make a point of it.” Brooke-“I didn’t read the application.” Eric-“I’m terribly sorry I thought you knew. But it doesn’t make any difference to us does it darling?” Brooke-“No, of course not… Would you rather not tell me about her?” Eric-“I’d like to forget that I ever met her. Her father was a patient of mine. A fine old gentleman. But Louise, (he pauses) Tell me darling, you haven’t got a lot of money have you?”
Once Brooke and Eric arrive at his Gothic house in San Francisco, they are greeted by his sister Emma and his nephew Carl who are not welcoming at all. They act strangely toward Brooke, as if she is an outsider.
Eric brings Brooke home and introduces her as his wife to Emma, who is resistant to shake Brooke’s hand. Eric asks how his son Philip is and Emma hesitates a bit as if she is frightened to answer, then tells him that the boy’s stomach trouble is back. Eric replies-“There shouldn’t be anything wrong unless you’ve been feeding him solids again.” Emma-“I’ve kept him on liquids just as you ordered.”
Carl welcomes his Uncle home. Carl comments sarcastically to Eric-“What’s the matter you look upset. Did something you eat not agree with you?” Eric walks away from him and ascends the staircase-“Nothing I eat- disagrees with me!”
Emma introduces Brooke as Eric’s wife… Eric’s home at first is inhabited with seemingly hostile characters, Lisa Golm as Emma, Eric’s morose and cantankerous sister. His crippled nephew Carl (John Alvin) Emma’s son, who Eric refuses to allow to get the surgery that could correct his leg.
Bert Glennon’s cinematography creates a manifest antagonism of hostile shadows.
The somber Emma tells Brooke with a tone of doubt in her beleaguered voice that she hopes she’ll be happy. Brooke in voice over-“I wondered right then how long I could remain in a house where I was not welcome.”
Brooke gets a jolt of her new reality after she tells Eric that she can see why Philip’s mother wants the child so badly. Eric tells her that Louise is not going to get him, and asks if she’ll stand by him. Brooke says that she’ll do anything she can to help. When he informs her that she already has by marrying him, the awareness that comes over her face is acute as if her blood just turned to ice. Eric supposes, “Don’t you see the judge is much more apt to grant permanent custody of a child to a happily married couple, than to a single man.” But he stresses that they must keep their marriage a secret until the court date so that Louise’s lawyer has no time to counter attack, allowing him to believe that he’s snapped photos of an illicit affair rather than of a newly married couple. “I understand, it’s a very clever plan Eric. When did you think of it?” Eric assures her that he loves her more than anything else in the world.
Carl- “Mother’s the cook tonight, you see servants don’t stay with us very long, neither does anybody else.”
Carl-“Pleasant little household we have here isn’t it.” Brooke-“We could make it pleasant if we try.”
Emma and Carl are at first an odd pair all seemingly living in fear, who appear to know family secrets with menacing looks and a lack of warmth right from the beginning. Maybe it’s their diet which only consists of small amounts of vegetables, while Eric gorges himself on the best steak at his local diner.
Carl-“What a life she’s going to lead.” Emma-“She has only herself to blame. She married him with her eyes open”Carl-“I doubt that… but I think we’re opening them.”
Eric is called out on an emergency to see his patient Mrs. Calvin. Brooke decides to go with him on his call. Eric warns her, “Brooke you’ll possibly hear stories about me. That I’m a faker. I want you to know that they’re not true. And I will prove it to you. Get your things.”
As Brooke and Eric leave, Louise and David MacKellar her lawyer pull up to the house. Louise is there to see her son, but they don’t know that Brooke is actually Eric’s wife yet. Not realizing that Eric was home now, she’ll have to phone Emma who has been secretly letting Louise see her son Philip.
David-“And he’s got the girl with him. How do you like that for nerve.”
Becky Brown plays Genevieve Calvin whose mother is dying. Eric passes Brooke off as his nurse. But Genevieve is obviously in love with Eric.
Leah Baird as Mrs. Calvin is in enormous pain. Eric essentially ignores her physiological illness and controls her pain by hypnotizing her. The result is that the poor old woman dies because she didn’t seek proper medical treatment.
It doesn’t take long before Brooke realizes that her husband is a fraud after all, who might even have a few deaths of his patients on his hands. Brooke finally comes to grips with the true horror that confirms Eric has only married the financially self sufficient Brooke as a way to retain custody of his son, in order to steal his inheritance. Naturally being a sociopath Eric played it smooth at being romantic in the very first few days of their rushed courtship, but his true colors begin to emerge once Brooke is brought into the family home.
Brooke tells Eric’s nephew Carl that she has a very fine doctor friend whom she’ll set up an appointment with so he can look at his lame leg.
Like many good noir suspense thrillers, there is the moment of ‘reversal’ when the contrast between the light and promising beginning turns gloomy and sinister.
When Philip comes into Brooke’s room while she’s eating breakfast in bed, the cute little fella, jumps up and sits with her telling her it looks good. Brooke asks him what he had for breakfast. He tells her orange juice. She asks what he had for supper the night before. He tells her orange juice. She spreads a lovely helping of jam on toast and hands it to Philip who has given himself a jam mustache. Carl comes in and tells him to wipe the jam off his face.
The art direction by Hugh Reticker and Bertram Tuttle is perfectly moody for the menacing atmosphere, and quite the contrast from the opening scenes where Brooke and Eric are honeymooning on the bright sunny spaces of the beach. The Nob Hill mansion is dreary and uninviting.
Carl challenges Brooke asking her why she married Eric. She tells him that she married Eric because she fell in love with him. He gives her the total picture of the family’s finances. That Eric can’t touch Philips money until he’s 25, which gives her many years to butter up the kid.
Genevieve Calvin calls up telling Brooke that her mother is much worse. Brooke gives her the number of her own Dr. Nelson Norris (Paul Stanton) Brooke and Philip hit it off just swell, and she heads out to her house in Burlingame to keep up on the cleaning, and maintain a link to her independence. Smart girl!
Dr. Norris meets Brooke at her house, and informs her that Mrs. Calvin died on the operating table. Brooke can’t believe it because she seemed so comfortable the night before. “Her daughter called me in a little too later. She was being treated by this fellow Eric Ryder who’s the biggest quack in San Francisco” Brooke-“Are you serious?” Dr. Nelson-” Do you know him?” Brooke-“Yes, Yes I know him.”Dr. Norris-“Then for heaven sake don’t have anything to do with him. These quacks have a little superficial knowledge. They’re always very glib and persuasive and helpless people like Mrs. Calvin have to pay for it. This man was entirely responsible for her death. I did everything I could possibly do. But she was too weak. Too far gone.”Brooke-“that’s dreadful”Dr. Norris-“If you know anyone in his hands for heaven sake warn them against him. This man is a menace to the community.”
Andrea In voice-over “I refused to believe this terrible indictment of my husband. But a voice deep inside of me kept saying it’s true….”
Andrea King is brilliant as a woman who is not a wilting violet while her nefarious husband keeps revealing more unsavory parts of himself, Andrea King always manifests an inner strength and intelligence in all her roles. In Shadow of a Woman, Brooke has the mindfulness to maintain her home in San Bernardino which is one way of getting out from under her bizarre marriage that she very quickly learns is a sham.
Eric is a murderer and not just a quack who inadvertently allows his patients to take his dietary course of treatments, while ignoring danger signs of underlying illness. Genevieve Calvin (Becky Brown) comes to Eric’s house and threatens to go to the judge not only about his unethical methods but says she will make trouble for him so he won’t be able to maintain custody of his son, after her mother (Leah Baird) dies from his malpractice.
Eric makes it appear as if the distraught Genevieve commits suicide, when he puts an overdose of pills into her drinking water, knowing that the maid Sarah is off for the night, the police won’t question the circumstances.
Eric’s ex-wife Louise wants custody of their son and her lawyer David G. MacKellar (William Prince) meets Brooke and they form a friendship. Eventually Brooke works with them to expose Eric’s malevolent plans.
When David meets up with Brooke in a diner, he hands her a subpoena telling her she’s exhibit A in the custody hearing. That she spent that weekend with Ryder without the benefit of clergy. “Has Ryder been filling you full of diet theories and orange juice?… Joe (the short order cook), has Doc Ryder been in tonight?” Joe- “It’s a little early for him yet.” David-“Got his steak on ice?” Joe-“Yeah, I’m saving a nice one for him, the juiciest New York cut I seen since Pearl Harbor. I wish I knew where he gets ’em I can’t find steaks like that.” David-“See Ms Gifford, a phony. All those diet theories are sucker bait for his racket.” Brooke-“He has lots of patients and they keep going to him.” David-“Of course people will go to anybody who promises to work miracles.”He tells her that carrots three times a day and fresh air is fine if you’re not really sick but if you need real medical help, and he keeps you from getting tests and treatment from a regular medical doctor then it’s plain murder! “Break it all down and what do you make of our Dr. Ryder, a second rate hypnotist, and not even that. Did you know he used to work for the carnival before he went into the health racket?”
William Prince is wonderfully sharp tongues and amusing as Louise’s attorney David MacKellar with his witty cracks and his likable manner.
Brooke asks David why Louise is so interested all of a sudden in getting custody of Philip when she didn’t want anything to do with him before. David asks her “Who told ya that?” “My husband, Dr. Ryder.” They go back and forth with a humorous repartee , until Brooke shows him her marriage certificate. David-“There goes my appetite and my case. Sister you sure had me fooled. Doc Ryder can turn on the charm when he wants to but marrying the guy for money. Well I wish you luck, all of it bad…”“You’re pretty nervy Mr. MacKellar” She points out that he’s Louise’s attorney and aren’t they interested in Philip’s estate? Telling him from the picture that Eric painted she’s not the grieving mother she pretends to be. David, disgusted with this exchange flings some change on the counter for Brooke’s coffee, passes up his hamburger and leaves.
Brooke’s voice over continues-“It was disloyal to Eric to tell of my marriage, but I no longer cared. I wanted to help Mr. MacKellar. I wanted him to respect me.”
Andrea King does not deliver the role of the vulnerable women-in-peril, but a strong willed and energetic woman whose eyes are wide open as soon as Eric’s charming veneer loses it luster, which is immediate. She isn’t afraid to confront him, nor does she wait to seek out the answers to the mysteries surrounding her new life. She even rejects his kisses instead of accepting them like some women may. In some films, hearing their struggling through dire inner monologues as to why his embraces feel creepy yet she loves him. Brooke now knows why he makes her skin crawl and she doesn’t question her own imagination about it. From the edge of the story she begins to hold him at bay and not become submissive.
At first its had seemed that Emma and Carl would not warm up to Brooke, with Emma’s maudlin, grim expressions and Carl’s sarcastic asides, but after Brooke takes a shine to sweet little Philip, and begins to earn the trust of the family, through her obvious kindness, they open up to her.
When she talks to Emma and her son Carl, she learns how Eric holds them hostage, by depriving them of a means of support to go anywhere else. He won’t let Carl get his leg fixed because it’ll prove he’s a fraud, and Emma hates the way he starves little Philip but she is afraid of her brother and what he’ll do.
Carl –“After all he’s Brook’s husband.”
Brooke-“And something could be done about that!.. Well I’m beginning to see how this household ticks and all the time I was thinking you were the most unfriendly people I have ever met.”
Emma- “I don’t blame you.”
Eric’s ex-wife Louise is desperate to protect her son and get him away from Eric, she and lawyer David G. MacKellar meet with Brooke who wants to help them protect little Philip And they form a friendship, as Brooke works with them to expose Eric’s malevolent plans. I’ll leave it there, so I won’t spoil the suspenseful conclusion of Shadow of a Woman.