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February 09, 2021

So Evil, My Love

so evil my love.jpg

Lewis Allen - 1946
KL Studio Classics

One of the problems with Andrew Sarris' book The American Cinema is that for unknown reasons several film directors do not rate any paragraph or even a sentence. One might mistakenly believe it is because the director in question may have any films worth seeing. While I have no explanations for their omission, Mark Sandrich and John Farrow are, if not necessarily auteurs, more than capable craftsmen. Lewis is listed in Sarris' Directorial Chronology, but only for the year 1944, with his debut The Uninvited and Our Hearts were Young and Gay. Prior to seeing, So Evil, My Love, I dived as deeply as I could into the filmography of Lewis Allen. Only about half a dozen of Allen's films are currently available either on home video or streaming. Based on those few films seen, Lewis Allen should be, as Sarris would put it, a subject for further research.

Not that this is found in all of Allen's works, but there is a streak of darkness that is noticeable in several films. This is more obvious in the low budget thrillers of the early Fifties - Appointment with Danger, A Bullet for Joey, Illegal and Suddenly. Each of these films is populated by a sociopath in an unforgiving world. It does not take too long to recognize the characters as such. In So Evil, My Love, Lewis takes his time, like peeling the skin off of an onion, to reveal the depths of Ray Milland's character, Mark Bellis. Taking place near the end of the 19th Century, Bellis is introduced as a malaria stricken passenger on a boat bound from Jamaica to England. He is cured by Olivia Harwood, a missionary's widow. There are indications that Bellis is on the lam for some unnamed crime(s). Ingratiating himself, Bellis becomes Olivia's boarder, then lover. A failed artist turned art thief, Bellis convinces Olivia to participate in a blackmail scheme. Olivia sets aside her scruples in the name of love. Bellis pours on the charm, but the camera shows Milland's smile to be more of a devllish grin. Within the constraints of the production code, Olivia's actions take an exceedingly dark turn.

The blu-ray contains a commentary track by Imogen Sara Smith. There are only a handful of film scholars consistent in being totally prepared in their presentations and fully informative, and Ms. Smith is one of the best. Much of her commentary is devoted to the historical background of the story, and putting the film into the context of both the genre of gaslight noir and the years, mostly the 1940s, when these films were made. What is referred to here are those films, most notably Gaslight (1940 and the more famous 1944 remake), Hangover Square, and this film, all usually taking place around the late Victorian era in England. Where I would disagree with Ms. Smith is that there is a consistency in the dramatic films directed by Lewis Allen. While the director may have related much of his work as assignments, it seems more than coincidental that when his most transgressive characters die in several films, the world is revealed as cruel in death to those inhumane in life.

This production marked Allen's return to England, where he was born and began his stage career. The cast is all British with Ann Todd as Olivia Harwood and Geraldine Fitzgerald as the friend duped into being a victim of the blackmail scheme. Milland is so ingrained as a Hollywood star that it is easy to forget he was actually Welsh born. Ann Todd's relatively brief stardom is curious as her career peaked when she was hitting 40, with Hitchcock's The Paradine Case (1947) and her three films with then-husband David Lean. One of the more recognizable cast members is Leo G. Carroll, with a bushy mustache, as a private detective with the goods on Bellis and Olivia. So Evil, My Love was a box office disappointment at the time of release. New York Times critic, Bosley Crowthers, complained about the film's "tempting but trivial details". Critical reception towards the film has risen more recently. After seeing several of his films, a general reappraisal of Lewis Allen would also seem in order.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 9, 2021 07:35 AM