My Review of ‘Shadow on the Wall’ (1950)

Okay, I should probably warn you that this review contains a bit of a retired lawyer’s/law librarian’s rant. But it’s for a noble purpose! 🙂 Anyhow, you’ve been warned.

As psychological thrillers go, this one is as suspenseful as any. What we have here is a situation where a child is witness to a murder, but can’t remember the details. It would seem she has blocked out the memory of the traumatic event of seeing Celia, her step-mother (played ever-so-briefly by Kristine Miller) get shot by … someone. Despite the fact that the child didn’t seem to like her all that much sensed something off about the step-mom’s relationship with her dad (played by Zachary Scott in a rare nice-guy role).

ZACHARY SCOTT & GIGI PERREAU
Film ‘SHADOW ON THE WALL’ (1950)
Directed By PAT JACKSON
19 May 1950
CTM42718
Allstar/Cinetext/MGM

The problem that leads to this disaster situation is that Celia has fallen in love (or lust) with her sister Dell’s fiancĂ©, Crane. David (the dad) finds out they’ve been seeing each other. Then chooses the clumsiest most embarrassing way to tell everyone involved what’s going on.

The bottom line is, after Dell (played by Ann Sothern—another role cast against type) and Crane (played by Tom Helmore) split the scene, Celia and David argue. Of course. And naturally David owns a loaded gun which he just happens to have with him. However, when things heat up and David advances on Celia, she bashes him over the head with a hand mirror, and David goes out cold. The gun goes flying.

This leaves the door open for the real killer to make an entrance (no pun intended), have a quarrel with Celia, and (yes!) knock her off. And guess what the child sees!

Only the Shadow knows! 🙂

But David unfortunately ends up framed for the deed. He’s tried and convicted of first degree murder, then sentenced to the death penalty.

Okay, this is where things increasingly tested my willingness to suspend disbelief.

I could believe that Susan, the child who witnessed this, might block the memory of the event. I could even believe Nancy Davis (the future Nancy Reagan, First Lady) as the concerned psychiatrist trying to help her recover those memories and (as she points out from time to time) possibly uncover new evidence of what happened. I am emphasizing those words, because David’s lawyer claims to be incredibly interested in trying to save David’s life. And yet when given the opportunity to pursue a possible lead (albeit based on the potentially faulty memories of a child), absolutely no attempt is made to clue the cops in on this. Because he’s so convinced David did it, based on David’s own highly-suspect memories? WTF???

As a lawyer, let’s just say I found David’s legal counsel wanting in the area of “zealous representation”, i.e., not only did he breach his ethical duty, he outright ignored potential evidence that could supply reasonable doubt of David’s guilt. That’s borderline freaking malpractice, man!

And then there’s the psychiatrist herself, who apparently thinks it’s just fine to blab about her client’s psychiatric condition with a woman who isn’t the child’s guardian (or even a blood relation). Now, I realize this was in the days before HIPAA, but seriously—what shrink goes around spilling the details of such a sensitive subject to … some dame who happens to be the victim’s sister? Whatever happened to confidentiality? Or common fucking sense?

And then, there’s the part where the killer calls a law library and asks a law librarian if it’s possible for someone to be convicted based on a six-year-old’s testimony. And the librarian then proceeds to practice law without a license by giving an actual opinion instead of simply providing the necessary resources, which I can tell you as both a lawyer AND a librarian is totally crossing the freaking line.

The librarian offers to pull up the case establishing his opinion, which is fine, but you’re not supposed to interpret the materials. He said, “Give me a minute, and I’ll get the case.” And I muttered, “Give me five more, and I’ll Shepardize it for you.” For the non-lawyers you lucky people who never attended law school, “Shepardize” means “look up whether the case has been overruled or otherwise isn’t applicable” (basically). See, this is where getting advice from an active legal practitioner actually helps.

I like this movie despite that. Mainly on the strength of Gigi Perreau’s remarkable performance as the child, Susan. And Nancy Davis as the caring, if incredibly stupid and unethical psychiatrist, who won’t give up on “curing” the girl.

Via A Classic Movie Blog.

And did I mention that Susan is kept in the World’s Least Secure Psychiatric Ward? The killer just breezes in at one point and … yeah … tries to off the girl.

I swear nearly everyone in the film violates an ethical code, a legal duty, or plain common sense.

And yet it was suspenseful enough to hold my attention. Which might not be such a great thing. 🙂

Being of a kind nature, and since it did hold my attention, I’m giving this three and a half stars. It doesn’t hurt any that Nancy Davis and Gigi Perreau give truly moving performances. Besides, as long as you’re not a lawyer, a psychiatrist, or a law librarian, none of my concerns may bother you at all! 🙂

And just as an aside, I’ve compiled my two film noir/neo-noir review books into one PDF file. Which I’m providing as a perk on my Patreon page!

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