Shadows on the Wall (1950): Pat Jackson’s Psychological Film Noir, Starring Ann Sothern, Zachary Scott and Gigi Perreau (Children in Film)

From the Archives:

British director Pat Jackson helmed Shadow on the Wall, a psychological thriller, starring Ann Sothern, Zachary Scott and Gigi Perreau and featuring Nancy Davis (later First Lady Nancy Reagan).

It is based on the 1943 novel Death in the Doll’s House by Lawrence P. Bachmann and Hannah Lees.

When the tale begins, David Stirrling returns from business trip with gifts for his daughter Susan, and for his wife, Susan’s step-mother, Celia. He also has some WWII souvenirs, including a handgun.

Celia is having an affair with Crane, the fiancé of her sister, Dell Faring. Spotting her getting out of Crane’s car, David realizes she was lying about seeing a matinee with a girlfriend.

David then tricks Crane into revealing the truth. Dell, who believed that Crane was at a business meeting, makes an excuse to leave.

After they leave, Celia and David argue, and he takes out from his suitcase the souvenir gun in order to put it in his desk. When David discovers Crane’s monogrammed handkerchief in his robe’s pocket, he intends to confront her with her infidelity. However, Celia thinks he is threatening her with the gun and knocks him unconscious.

With no memory, David assumes he was the one who shot Celia, so when he is tried for first degree murder, he accepts a jury’s verdict of guilt and the judge’s sentence that he be put to death.

Canford continues to use play therapy to probe Susan’s memory, and finds out that Susan screamed not because of the gunshot, or the sight of her parents falling down, but because she saw something frightening in the doorway.

She draws a picture of the haunting shadow, which resembles a doll she calls “Cupid.” Dell, realizing that Canford is getting close to restoring the girl’s memory, attempts to murder the child with poison and by drowning.

At the time of this film, Gigi Perreau, only 8, had already made 20 films.

After small roles in MGM films, this was the first featured role for Davis, who later became First Lady Nancy Reagan.

The novel Death in the Doll’s House by Lawrence P. Bachmann and Hannah Lees was first published as a serial in The Saturday Evening Post from January 16, 1943 to February 27, 1943. “Hannah Lees” was pseudonym of author Elizabeth Head Fetter. Bachmann had previously written stories for MGM medical dramas that featured Dr. Kildare and Dr. Gillespie.

The sleeper success of RKO’s The Window, which told the story of young boy who tries to convince others that he’s seen a murder, MGM rushed Shadow on the Wall into production.

It had the working titles “Death in a Doll’s House.” “Death in the Doll’s House” and “The Open Door.”

Original director Roy Rowland was replaced by British director Patrick Jackson for what became his only American film; Jackson was known in the UK as a documentarian.

Margaret O’Brien was originally cast as the girl, Susan.

Zachary Scott was borrowed from Warner, Gigi Perreau from Samuel Goldwyn and Kristine Miller from Paramount.

Gigi Perreau is excellent as the mentally tortured moppet, and Zachary Scott does a realistic job as her architect father and wrongly convicted murderer. However, Ann Sothern is not compelling as the worried villainess.

The film  was a commercial flop, earning $433,000 domestically and $192,000 elsewhere, resulting in a loss of $330,000.

Ann Sothern as Dell Faring
Zachary Scott as David I. Starrling
Gigi Perreau as Susan Starrling
Nancy Davis as Dr. Caroline Canford
Kristine Miller as Celia Starrling
John McIntire as Pike Ludwell
Tom Helmore as Crane Weymouth
Helen Brown as Miss Burke
Barbara Billingsley as Olga
Marcia Van Dyke as Secretary
Anthony Sydes as Bobby