Cast a Dark Shadow (1955)

On Monday, October 12th TCM is airing a batch of suspenseful films focusing on “Treacherous Spouses.” Most critics wouldn’t classify any of these films as horror but some of them contain genuinely horrific moments. The impressive line-up includes Experiment Perilous (1944), Suspicion (1941), Strangers on a Train (1951), Dial M for Murder (1954), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) Elevator to the Gallows (1958) and the day’s programming commences at 6am EST/3am PST with Cast a Dark Shadow (1955).

You can’t go wrong with any of these fine thrillers but today I’d like to single out Cast a Dark Shadow, a gripping and remarkably grim British production starring Dirk Bogarde as a suave young Romeo who seduces wealthy older women for financial gain and then murders them in cold blood. Clocking in at a brisk 82 minutes and featuring some stellar talent behind and in front of the camera, Cast a Dark Shadow presents an interesting early example of a seductive and unscrupulous serial killer who will stop at nothing to satisfy his basest urges.

I first saw Cast a Dark Shadow on late night TV when I was an impressionable preteen. It was my introduction to Dirk Bogarde and the film terrified me but it also made me a lifelong fan of the actor. The picture opens with a striking scene shot inside a funhouse ride at a carnival. Bogarde’s character is sharing his seat with his wife and future murder victim (Mona Washbourne) when the camera focuses in on his face hidden by shadows while his pupils appear to light-up. It’s a startling effect that makes Bogarde look like a hungry demon with hellfire in his eyes. In this clever title sequence, director Lewis Gilbert and cinematographer Jack Asher signal to film audiences that their male protagonist is a monster before he ever opens his mouth.

The monster in question is the boyishly handsome, extremely well-dressed, effortlessly charming and exceptionally witty, Edward ‘Teddy’ Bare played by Bogarde in one of his earliest “bad boy” roles. It’s not hard to figure out why lonely women are drawn to him although Bare’s sexuality remains rather ambiguous throughout the film due to the casting of Bogarde and his character’s choice of reading materials (magazines featuring scantily clad muscle men). After we’re introduced to Bare via the funhouse sequence, we learn about his complicated relationship with his elderly wife who he rids himself of rather quickly. Her murder is a cruel and utterly heartless bit of nastiness that Bare performs with chilling bravado. With sharply arched eyebrows, a wicked side-eye and bone-chilling laugh, Bogarde makes a formidable villain. He may be just another Bluebeard-style lady-killer in this somewhat predictably plotted suspenser but much like Robert Montgomery in Night Must Fall (1937) and Joseph Cotton in Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Bogarde’s tightly wound performance is strikingly modern and makes a lasting impression that has influenced countless imitators.

Continue reading “Fatal Charm: Cast a Dark Shadow (1955)” at Turner Classic Movies official blog: The Movie Morlocks