The seductive Andrea King was 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 Santley with 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.