Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


PORTRAIT IN BLACK (1960). Director: Michael Gordon. Produced by Ross Hunter.

Sheila Cabot (Lana Turner) is a beautiful woman married to a sick and seemingly hateful old man named Matthew (Lloyd Nolan). One day Sheila's lover, David (Anthony Quinn), who happens to be her husband's doctor, tells her how easy it would be to get rid of him. When Matthew conveniently kicks off, Sheila and David think they are above suspicion. But then a certain insinuating letter arrives ... Portrait in Black is an exhilarating suspense film whose chief strength is a superb performance from Quinn and an excellent score by Frank Skinner [Back Street] that helps keep viewers on the edge of their seats as all the various twists and turns of the plot -- and there are many -- skillfully unfold in a screenplay by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts (based on their stage play). Michael Gordon's direction at least keeps things moving at a brisk pace, and there is some fine photography of San Francisco settings by Russell Metty [Miracle in the Rain]. While Turner and Quinn [Wild is the Wind] may not seem to have that much chemistry, Quinn's passion simply enfolds Turner and helps empower her more than competent performance. As for the rest of the cast: Lloyd Nolan; Sandra Dee as Turner's step-daughter; John Saxon as Dee's boyfriend; Richard Basehart as a scheming associate; Dennis Kohler as young Peter, Dee's step-brother; Virginia Grey as a secretary; and Ray Walston as a chauffeur who may know too much are all quite good, and for extra added measure we get Anna May Wong, of all people, playing the maid. Paul Birch shows up very briefly as a detective. This picture, now forgotten by most, was quite famous in its day, and is certainly worth a look. Producer Ross Hunter insures that the film has that certain Hunter gloss. The ad campaign for the pic seems to summon up images of Lana Turner, her daughter, and Johnny Stompanato which was turned into Where Love Has Gone with Susan Hayward in the Turner part.

Verdict: Very entertaining melodrama that isn't boring for an instant. ***.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - I adore these glossy Ross Hunter movies, especially when they star the glorious Miss Lana Turner--my all-time favorite is of course Imitation of Life, but this one is a winner too, and love that she reteams with Imitation costar Sandra Dee here.

I have a DVD set with both Portrait in Black and Madame X, love them both. Just rewatched X and now it's time for Portrait, thanks to you.

Michael Gordon also directed one of my other favorite Ross Hunter productions, Midnight Lace with Doris of her best non-singing roles!


William said...

I like "Midnight Lace" as well, Chris, with Rex Harrison, and I believe your favorite,Myrna Loy, is in it, too.

Just looked to see if either Hulu or Netflix had the movie, but no go. All I could find was a 1981 remake with Mary Crosby! It's no longer on amazon streaming and there doesn't even seem to be any DVD currently available. Strange how some pictures just disappear.

angelman66 said... still has it for sale, I believe, on DVD for $14.99 or something like that...

William said...

Yeah, found it there, thanks!