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So Evil My Love

Posted by martinteller on November 17, 2012

“I had the whip hand and he knew it.  I was utterly in command.”
“You enjoyed yourself!”
“Yes, the power of it.  It’s a wonderful sensation.  I’ve never had it before.  I was quite calm, my heart wasn’t pounding, and my mouth wasn’t dry and… I was utterly in possession.”
“I’m beginning to know you, Olivia.”
“I’m beginning to know myself.”

Olivia Harwood (Ann Todd) is newly widowed, her missionary husband having succumbed to malaria.  On the steamer back to England, she nurses Mark Bellis (Ray Milland) back to health from the same affliction.  She knows little about him, but a few days later the charming man appears on her doorstep, looking for lodging at her bed & breakfast.  What she doesn’t know is that Mark — one of his many aliases — is a wanted criminal.  And as the two develop a relationship, she’ll be drawn into a world of deception, theft, blackmail… and murder.

Period noirs are often enjoyable but one of the things about noir is that it’s commenting on contemporary scenarios and values.  1948 is still a ways away from the women’s lib movement, but the sexual politics of this film still feel a bit too much out of time to be considered a reflection of society at that time.  Still, there are hints of feminism emerging.  Olivia’s friend Susan (Geraldine Fitzgerald) is dominated by her cold husband (Raymond Huntley) but she has her own little subterfuge, her own hateful rebellious impulses.  Olivia herself is not the tormented, easily manipulated protagonist of Gaslight… she knows to some extent what she’s getting into, and even enjoys it.

It’s one of the best aspects of the film, the way people aren’t simply divided into “good” and “evil”, despite the title.  It explores the grey areas, the decisions one makes to choose one’s fate.  In this sense, it’s very noir indeed.  Milland’s character as well is not just a smooth-talking rogue with nothing but sinister plans on his mind.  He’s able to be torn between love and treachery, and he has an artistic spirit as well.  The characters are nicely rounded, with solid performances all around.  There are nice surprises in the characterizations and developments.

Unfortunately, the movie is a bit on the slow side.  110 minutes is pretty long for a noir, and the length is felt in the sluggish pacing.  Lewis Allen never seems able to deliver the total package, and none of his noirs so far have hit that sweet spot.  This one is one of his better and more artful offerings, but needs more zip.  Rating: Good (78)


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