Cast a Dark Shadow

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Fortune hunter Dirk Bogarde preys on rich older women until one of them proves to be his match.

This post is part of the The Stage to Screen Blogathon, hosted by The Rosebud Cinema and Rachel’s Theater Reviews 

In this 1955 movie, Dirk Bogarde plays a psychotic fortune hunting gigolo, a layabout after the good life and “somebody to pay his passage.” He’s terribly charming but also slimy and devious, at times so confident that he’s brazen about his intentions. He convinces his much older wife, played by Mona Washbourne, that he loves her, but he can’t fool us or Washbourne’s lawyer (Robert Flemyng). Not long after we meet the couple, Bogarde kills Washbourne and stages the scene to look like an accidental death, possibly even suicide. Bogarde is cleared of any wrongdoing by an inquest, but Flemyng remains suspicious. But Bogarde’s bigger problem is that he made the mistake of murdering Washbourne right before she changed her will in his favour, so he ends up with no inheritance to show for his crime or his time as the doting husband (the money’s all been left to her sister who lives too far away for Bogarde to romance).

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What’s a fortune hunter to do but troll the seaside resorts for another rich widow to fleece? He soon spies legs and expensive jewelry belonging to Margaret Lockwood, a sassy, no-nonsense (crude in his words), older woman who lets herself be charmed but is smart enough to have him “sign on the dotted line,” and then keep the relationship “pound for pound,” that is, sharing none of her money and keeping him limited to the fortune he lies about having. He’s met his match in Lockwood, a sharp and initially unsentimental dame who has Bogarde and his intentions figured out, and even seems to have some of her own. Soon a newer, richer woman, a “plumper bird” (Kay Walsh) comes along, and she’s very interested in Bogarde. That’s when Lockwood gets jealous, realizes she actually loves him, and that’s also when Bogarde has to plan her death. At this point there are plenty of twists: some truly surprise because you think you see them coming but they go another path entirely, others are simple and more predictable but bring justice (involving some Angel Face-style car maintenance).

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For Bogarde this role came in between his Doctor series and romantic roles, and was a return to the type of disturbing villain he’d played in The Blue Lamp five years earlier. Handsome and gentlemanly as he was, he always did well as a weirdo and this is one of his better such parts. One of the things I found effective about his performance was his lack of humour; as high as he can turn up the charm when he needs to, he still can’t hide that he’s essentially an unlikable brat and sourpuss. Not only does he never react to a joke (and Lockwood makes many good ones), he seems to resent anyone making them, and is threatened by humour, which reveals a lot about his disdain for women and inability to engage as a normal human. Yet he has a high hysteric laugh that marks him as a nut like some of the best noir villains.

This was Lockwood’s last lead in a film (her last feature was the musical The Slipper and the Rose in 1976)* and what a brilliant screen career. She was a fabulous actress who could handle everything from a haughty noblewoman or villainess to an innocent spunky heroine; she’s definitely someone you need to discover if all you know of her is Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. Lockwood continued on television, and in fact in 1956 she reprised her role when this film was remade as a BBC TV movie, with Derek Farr playing Bogarde’s part. She’s really good here, fearless and bold but ultimately a little heartbroken, and she brings a lot of edge and humour as she gets caught up in this strange dance with Bogarde. Kathleen Harrison plays the loyal but dim maid who’s treated shabbily by Bogarde (I just saw her in The Ghoul), and Walsh, another fine actress, once wife of director David Lean, is also great as the mysterious and very classy woman shopping for homes in the neighbourhood, who upsets everything with her interest in Bogarde and her promises to take him on his dream trip around the world.

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Cast a Dark Shadow was directed by Lewis Gilbert, who among many films did the 007 movies You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, and was last seen at this blog directing Ferry to Hong Kong. Cinematography is by Jack Asher, who was to become known for his work on Hammer horror, and he certainly makes this movie appropriately dark and gloomy, perfect for a mansion haunted by a murder and inhabited by a soulless predator with firm intentions to kill again, and who sees his time in this house as imprisonment. The source material was the play Murder Mistaken, written by actress turned writer Janet Green. Murder Mistaken was first performed in London in 1953, and when it appeared on American stages it was retitled Gently Does It, neither of which have the same noirish, nefarious feel of the movie title. Green was a busy writer who worked on many screenplays including The Long Arm, a great crime movie I reviewed here, and also Victim, in which Bogarde starred. Green also wrote the play Matilda Shouted Fire, which was adapted to film as the Doris Day thriller Midnight Lace. Cast a Dark Shadow is not a very well known suspenser, but worth seeing for its handful of fine actors doing good work in the story of a pretty boy (and pretty crazy boy) with deadly intentions.

*thanks to Terry (see comments) for the correction re Lockwood’s last film

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click here to see all the other posts in the Stage to Screen Blogathon 

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16 thoughts on “Cast a Dark Shadow”

    1. It really is very enjoyable as a thriller, and I didn’t even mention in the post that it doesn’t have that “stagebound” feel that many adaptations do. It even has that neat opening scene at the seaside carnival ride that is very unusual and fascinating. Thanks for reading.

  1. Cast a Dark Shadow is both one of my favourite Sir Dirk Bogarde films and one of my favourite Margaret Lockwood films. In particular, Margaret played a role that was a far cry from The Lady Vanishes, The Wicked Lady, or her many other glamorous roles. I do have one correction to make. Cast a Dark Shadow was not her last feature film, although it was her last starring role in one. Her last feature film was the musical The Slipper and the Rose in 1976, in which she played Cinderella’s Wicked Stepmother.

    1. oh, thank you for that correction, I’ll edit to fix it right away. I’ve seen this movie so many times now, like you I love both the leads and these roles for them. I always rave about Lockwood to anyone who hasn’t seen much of her. I love her lines in this movie, like, about her late husband: “buried poor Al./ What was wrong with him?/ He was dead!” and then she laughs at her own line 🙂 She’s great. Thanks for reading and for the info, I appreciate it.

  2. You’ve reminded me that it’s far too long since last I watched this terrific suspenser; I must dig out my copy for another goggle. I’m in general a huge fan of Bogarde in noirs and other dramas; he was such a fine actor in these roles that I felt he was essentially wasted in all the Doctor movies and such. Not to say he wasn’t good in those too; just that good light-comic actors aren’t hard to find, whereas it’s hard to imagine who could have rivaled Bogarde in movies like this one, Hunted (1952), The Night Porter (1974) and even the far more romantique So Long at the Fair (1950). And yay for Lockwood and Walsh too!

    I read your review before having to go and do some chores, and on my return discovered there were comments, including yours about the fact that, unlike many play adaptations, there’s little or no stageyness here. It’s a point I made when I was writing about the movie for my encyclopedia; glad to see I’m not the only one struck by this really quite unusual characteristic!

    1. Yes I really agree with your opinion of him in the more complicated roles– there’s something so contemptible about his character here, despite all the looks and charm working to the contrary, and Bogarde did a super job with that without overplaying it. And bears repeating how Lockwood is a strong match to him, they are fascinating to watch. No wonder we keep going back to it.

      As for it being open and not stagey, even inside the mansion it never feels limited or tight in any way, you’d honestly never know it was a play to begin with. Thanks for reading!

    1. Definitely check it out, a fun one to discover, nice to see so many commenters not only know it but like it just as much as I do!

  3. This ranks as one of my favourite thrillers, and I must admit I didn’t know it was based on a stage play, as discussed it doesn’t feel the least bit stagey, which is quite a feat. Bogarde is great in this, I think he might’ve made more bold choices than any actor of his generation.

    1. He really made the career for himself that eludes a LOT of a handsome actors perfect for romantic leads, very early on he established that he could do the range, and like I said i am fascinated by his “weirdo” and complex roles. Nice to see so many fans of this movie!

  4. Wow! Just had 2 thoughts:
    1- I’ve never seen Dirk Bogarde so young!
    2- I need more of Margaret Lockwood in my life.
    Thanks for writing about this movie, sounds very interesting. I can see some similarities between this film and My Cousin Rachel… which means that I’ll certainly like Cast a Dark Shadow!
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂
    Kisses!
    http://criticaretro.blogspot.com.br/2014/10/variacoes-sobre-um-mesmo-tema-o-passaro.html

    1. Yes, every movie fan needs more Lockwood. Besides being beautiful, she was really good and played so many different types in her career. Bogarde is really good in this too, very disturbing. Will drop by soon, thanks 🙂

  5. Agree about Lockwood. Incidentally, as well as starring in the BBC TV version, Derek Farr originated the role of Edward Bare on stage in 1952.

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