Portrait in Black: Melodrma, Starring Lana Turner and Anthony Quinn

Made right after the huge artistic and commercial success of the melodrama Imitation to Life, Portrait in Black is a mediocre thriller, serving as a star vehicle for Lana Turner.

Turner’s wardrobe—designed by Jean Louis–is rich and elegant, but, as directed by Michael Gordon, the tale is pedestrian and not particularly involving on any level.

Produced by Ross Hunter, the film was based on the play of the same by name by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, who also wrote the script.

Turner plays Sheila Cabot (Lana Turner), a beautiful middle-aged woman who’s forced to take care of her ailing and unpleasant husband (Lloyd Nolan).

She is involved in illicit romance with her husband’s doctor, David Rivera (Anthony Quinn), who wishes her husband (and his patient) dead.  Sheila’s routine shopping sprees are a cover-up for meetings with David.

Not helping matters is her tense relationship with her stepdaughter, Cathy (played by Sandra Dee), who never sees Sheila bringing home any items after she shops.

The murder investigation of a third party in the film’s second half is not convincing, especially after Sheila’s young son reveals to Cathy some information about a fateful night, in which all the servants were given a night off and a shot was heard.

The source material is a 1946 play, which was more successful in London (with Diana Wynyard) than on Broadway. It was presented on Theatre Guild on the Air on March 2, 1952 as one-hour drama, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Richard Widmark.

There is no chemistry between Turner and Anthony Quinn, who may be miscast as the shady doctor, responsible for not one but two murders. Quinn’s confessions, on the staircase and outside, while chasing Cathy (now fully aware of the facts) are risible.

The romance between Sandra Dee’s Cathy and John Saxon is also not convincing, probably included in order to cash in on the huge popularity of Dee with young viewers at the time.

The film marks the final appearance of vet Asian actress, Anna May Wong

Portrait in Black was shot on in and around San Francisco, including a scene at Devil’s Slide on the Pacific Coast Highway.


Lana Turner as Sheila Cabo

Anthony Quinn as Dr. David River

Richard Basehart as Howard Maso

Sandra Dee as Cathy Cabo

John Saxon as Blake Richard

Ray Walston as Cob

Virginia Grey as Miss Le

Anna May Wong as Tawny

Dennis Kohler as Peter Cabo

Lloyd Nolan as Matthew S. Cabot