Saturday, October 19, 2013

So Evil My Love (1948)

Director: Lewis Allen                                     Writers: Ronald Millar & Leonard Spigelgass
Film Score: Victor Young                              Cinematography: Mutz Greenbaum
Starring: Ray Milland, Ann Todd, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Leo G. Caroll

I always felt that Ray Milland suffered unnecessarily under the label the poor man’s Cary Grant. Milland was his own actor, his own character, far more suspicious and far less charming than Grant and shouldn’t have had to apologize for it in any way. He also won an Academy Award for The Lost Weekend, something Grant was never able to accomplish. In this historical drama, based on a true story, Milland is up to the kind of no good that no doubt led Alfred Hitchcock to cast him in Dial M for Murder a few years later. So Evil My Love is in the same mold. Coming back from Jamaica Milland is one of several people who have contracted malaria, and the ship’s doctor has convinced the missionary’s widow onboard, Ann Todd, to help him with those afflicted. While thanking her after docking, it becomes clear that he is eluding the police.

Todd is penniless except for a small house in London that her husband left her where she takes in lodgers to make ends meet, one of whom is the destitute Milland. All is not as it seems, however, as Milland has a girlfriend and regularly meets with his accomplice, Raymond Lovell. The two plan a robbery of paintings and are foiled, dashing all of Milland’s plans for solvency. But then Milland hits on a new idea. A starving artist himself, he paints a portrait of Todd as a way of seducing her. Later she visits an old school friend, Geraldine Fitzgerald, in order to borrow money from her for Milland, and learns Fitzgerald is trapped in a loveless marriage to a man who hopes to become a peer. When Milland discovers letters to Todd from Fitzgerald that disclose an affair she’s having, he coerces Todd to go against everything she has believed in to blackmail Fitzgerald’s husband so they can move to France.

The story is based on the novel by Joseph Shearing, pen name of Marjorie Bowen, itself suggested by the mysterious death of a London barrister in 1876. This is a British production by Paramount’s English division and has lots of ornate and realistic sets. The thing is, however, it doesn’t feel like a period piece. Because of the year it was filmed, it has much more of a noir sensibility. But it’s even more than that. What strikes me is that it would have been incredibly good as a Hitchcock vehicle, which is not to say that it’s bad at all. The film begins at a leisurely pace and takes quite a while before the tension begins to ratchet up. Hitch would probably have reconfigured it and brought in the suspense much earlier. But the ending is still incredibly satisfying.

Milland is just Milland, smooth and supremely confident. And speaking of Hitchcock, Ann Todd had recently co-starred in the director’s The Paradine Case the year before. She has the same type of screen presence as one of Hitch’s early female leads, Joan Fontaine. Also onboard is Hitch’s favorite character actor, Leo G. Caroll, though he doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. Geraldine Fitzgerald plays Todd’s friend, married to a man she despises, who keeps her prisoner in his house, and threatens to have her committed to an asylum. But her domestic imprisonment actually begins to drive her mad and her subdued breakdown at the end of the film is well done. Lewis Allen had directed Milland previously in The Uninvited and it seems here that he succeeds more from the material rather than talent. Still, there are a lot of good scenes and interesting set-ups, especially utilizing the magnificent sets. So Evil My Love is definitely a sleeper, but is ultimately very rewarding.

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