Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 15, 2016 10:15 am 
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Campy Dirk Bogarde crime melodrama gets digital treatment

In the Fifties even routine British films were delightful entertainment, and Lewis Gilbert's Cast a Dark Shadow, shown by the San Francisco film festival in a restored print, is an example. Dirk Bogarde plays Edward Bare, a despicable criminal who's also stupid, since he murders his rich older wife to stop her from making a new will that turns out would have been in his favor. Now he's left unable to get his hands on her money. The wife (Mona Washbourne) was no genius either, since she married him. Her faithful houseservent Emmie (Kathleen Harrison) is a very simple soul. Luckily there is someone smart on hand: the lawyer Philip, played by the deliciously dour Robert Flemyng, who played Edward Chamberlayne in the original 1949 West End production of T.S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party. Watch out, Teddy Bare!

Bogarde's repressed homosexuality (and possible mommy issues) feeds into the plot at once. His wife's nickname is "Monie," which rhymes with mommy, and we suspect the way he coddles her masks hatred. After she's dead we see him in a tearoom browsing through a male muscle magazine while about to pounce on Margaret Lockwood (of The Lady Vanishes), a new female victim, or perhaps a collaborator, since she turns out to be a worldly wise and tough-talking widow. With her Edward Bare may have met his match, though he manages to marry her, he thinks, for her money. Even more so when a classier lady comes along looking for a property in town (Kay Walsh).

This campy noir, sort of Patricia Highsmith meets Douglas Sirk, ends in a hasty melodramatic finale with swirling orchestral accompaniment. This is no underrated masterpiece, just a workmanlike job. One trouble is that unlike the best British crime tales of the period it lacks either a sense of humor or interesting development of minor characters. Screenplay by John Creswell from the play Murder Mistaken by Janet Green. We know Dirk Bogarde as a suave, sometimes villainous or neurotic, character; this is far from one of his great roles, but the creepiness certainly is all there. Despite the somewhat makeshift plot, he's in full smarmy form, making his doomed villain come to life. But we could have done without the hysteria. A bagatelle, this might have been cut down to an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."

Cast a Dark Shadow, 82 mins. debuted 20 Sept. 1955 in London and hit the screen Nov. 1957 in New York. Its sparkling Cohen Film Collection 2K DCP digitally restored version will be presented 23 Apr.2016 at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was screened for this review.


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