Perhaps one of the earliest vehicles that helped launch the film-acting career of Dirk Bogarde was his excellent performance in “Cast a Dark Shadow” (1955), directed by Lewis Gilbert. In this film we can see all the characteristic strengths of Bogarde’s acting in protean form: the shifting in and out of working-class accents, the ability to charm and dissemble convincingly, the “losing control” of one’s emotions when pushed too far, all these are included in the character of Edward “Teddy” Bare, the evil protagonist of the film.
Basically, the film concerns Teddy Bare’s successful murder of his wife, a woman twenty to thirty years his senior (played by Mona Washbourne), for money; a successful murder attempt which backfires when “Tedeh”, as his first wife calls him, finds out that she left him no money, only the house they live in, although she was on the brink of re-writing her will so that Teddy got the filthy lucre too. Unfortunately for him, he murders his wife the day before she calls in the lawyer to change her will, a decision her barrister strongly councils against. But Edward doesn’t know this, so his successful attempt lands him nothing but the house, but “not a sausage” muneratively speaking.
So Edward sets about finding a new, well-heeled older widow, and finds her in the person of Freda Jeffries, played very strongly by Margaret Lockwood. Thinking he’s found another treacly pushover like his first wife, Edward tries to stampede her into buying a piece of property, but the strong-willed Mrs. Jeffries, now Mrs. Bare the Second, will have none of it, as equally she will have none of “Ed” sleeping in a separate room, as he casually suggests. (The transition from his first wife Monica’s “Tedeh” to his new wife’s straightforward “Ed” is a subtle but revelatory mutation.) As she puts it, she’ll go “pound for pound” with her new husband, but nothing more. As she laughing jokes before they are married, she had been tempted a couple of times to re-marry, but then she discovered that her suitors were “more interested in the money-bags than in the old bag”. The fact that she can laugh so heartily at this joke shows Mrs. Jeffries is not only a good sport, but also a realist. And Lockwood gives such a strong, believable performance throughout that one would have to say she actually steals the best acting award from Bogarde in this flick. And one can see why Hitchcock pegged Lockwood for her role in “The Lady Vanishes”, although “Cast a Dark Shadow” affords her a much wider range of acting situations to display her talent. And director Lewis Gilbert doesn’t lose the opportunity to capitalise on Lockwood’s legs, as did Hitchcock in that early scene from “The Lady Vanishes” where Lockwood prominently displays her nice appendages while standing on a chair. Here, Gilbert photographs Lockwood from a low angle, with her legs crossed, and we start to gather that Edward Bare was not wholly without carnal motives when he hitched up with Lockwood. But looks are incidental to the acting talent which serves Lockwood well in this film.
Bringing up third place in the Thespian honors is Kay Walsh, who gives a straightforward, realistic performance so different from her later role as a neurotic medium in “Seance on a Wet Afternoon”, Bryan Forbes’ little masterpiece, which co-starred Richard Attenborough in a character that looked and acted very similarly to his performance in “10 Rillington Place”. And rounding out the cast are Robert Flemyng as the lawyer who sees through Bare’s game immediately, and Kathleen Harrison as Amy, the maid, who is about as bright as paint — dull, matte latex. But Silverwolf digresses.
The final scenes, in which Lockwood realizes she has married a cold-blooded killer, and the final denouement which gives the reader a certain “schadenfreude” as evil reaps its own reward, leave the satisfied feeling one should feel at the end of a detective novel (the film is based on one by Janet Green) or thriller film. And the genre differs from the typical whodunit, in that the audience knows early on who the murderer is, and the main question is: will he get caught and if so how? This is a technique used frequently by Georges Simenon in his psychological novels, which has become quite widespread in mystery-detective-thriller literature, and which probably originated with Dostoyevsky in “Crime and Punishment”.
Before going we should also mention the highlighting of Lita Roza, the former singer with the Ted Heath Orchestra, in the nightclub scene, a chanteuse whose brief appearance matched her brief career in films. But what is of interest in her performance is not her herself, but the performance of the bald-headed extra in the slightly out of focus background, who nods his head approvingly, seems to speak to some invisible companion as he points out the singer with his cigar, and smiles. Truly a stunning performance from an extra, so subtle that most viewers will miss it, and one of the best efforts by an extra since Silverwolf saw that hog run out of the roadway as the gang of outlaws galloped into town in Michael Winner’s “Lawman”. But Silverwolf digresses again.
All in all, one must say that Bogarde’s performance in this film shows him as an artist way ahead of his age in maturity, a quality one sees in many top-drawer actors. Albert Finney, Alan Bates, and Tom Courtney all exhibited a similar feeling of mastery in their acting at a very early age. In modern times one can sense this quality also in Dominic Monaghan and Honeysuckle Weeks. But in Bogarde’s case we can plainly see that extraordinary acting talent that launched him into that vaunted circle of the top British actors of the 60s to 80s period: Lawrence Olivier, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Alan Bates, Albert Finney, and Tom Courtney (and please forgive Silverwolf for leaving out the legions of other incredible actors that seemed to spring up like mushrooms after a warm rain in the British Theatre and Cinema). In fact, the role is probably a bit too thin and confining for Bogarde (as mystery characters are prone to be) but it still gives him a wide scope to show his acting talents.
So, if you want to take your mind off your short positions in the stock indexes and the currencies for a few, brief, blissfully worry-free hours, Silverwolf would strongly recommend you take a decko at “Cast a Dark Shadow”, one of the early booster stages of that extraordinary acting phenomenon known as Dirk Bogarde.
Hoooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwww! — Silverwolf