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Ray Milland's 1974 memoir Wide-Eyed in Babylon concludes, for all intents and purposes, with his Oscar® win in 1946 for Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend (1945) - and that is a pity, given that there were many more highlights to Milland's long and illustrious career. The Wales native (born Reginald Alfred John Truscott-Jones in 1905 and in Hollywood from 1933 on) would turn to directing in the next decade, completing five features and a number of episodes for several weekly television series between 1955 and 1968. As he aged beyond the status of dashing leading man, Milland branched out to embrace more hard-edged and sometimes outright villainous roles - as a Mephistophelean tempter himself in John Farrow's Alias Nick Beal (1949), as nuclear physicist trading state secrets and living to regret it in Russell Rouse's "Cold War" noir The Thief (1952) and as a conniving sophisticate bent on having his wife murdered in Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954). One of Milland's first unabashed bad guy roles was in So Evil My Love (1948), which the actor made for Paramount with his The Uninvited (1944) director Lewis Allen.
A tale of deception and murder set within the polite society of Edwardian England, So Evil My Love was based on the 1947 book by Joseph Shearing, author also of the source novel for Twentieth Century Fox's Moss Rose (1947). Joseph Shearing was, in fact, one of many pseudonyms employed by Gabrielle Margaret Vere Campbell Long (1885-1952), who also published as Marjorie Bowen and in fact wrote her 1939 autobiography, The Debate Continues, under that byline. Born into penury as the daughter of an affectionate wastrel (who perished on the streets of London when she was a child) and a Bohemian mother disowned by her family, Campbell published her first novel when she was a teenager; she wrote prolifically (publishing seven novels in 1928 alone) during her long and mostly difficult life, the profits going to support her mother and a sister even as she suffered the loss of her first husband to tuberculosis and the death of their first-born child. Largely forgotten and the majority of her 150 published works now out of print, Campbell retains a solid reputation among a tight circle of literary admirers for the quality and imagination of her supernatural fiction, historical dramas and Gothic romances.Taking advantage of studio funds frozen overseas after World War II, producer Hal Wallis arranged to have So Evil My Love shot at Denham Studios in England and backed Milland with a number of reliable Hollywood supporting players who hailed originally from all points of the British isles. Cheshire-born Ann Todd was enjoying a successful crossover from London's West End to lead roles in Compton Bennett's The Seventh Veil (1945) opposite James Mason and in Alfred Hitchcock's The Paradine Case (1947) with Gregory Peck. Second female lead Geraldine Fitzgerald had come to Hollywood from London (and, before that, her native Ireland) by way of Broadway, where Wallis had seen her acting with Orson Welles' Mercury Players and signed her to a seven year contract; Fitzgerald is perhaps best known to contemporary audiences for playing family matriarchs in Arthur (1981) with Dudley Moore and Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986). A prominent member of Hollywood's British "colony," Leo G. Carroll had brought his dour countenance to bear as Marley's Ghost in MGM's adaptation of A Christmas Carol (1938) and had already begun a long association with Alfred Hitchcock; the saturnine actor attained pop culture immortality portraying avuncular spymaster Alexander Waverly on the hit NBC series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968).
So Evil My Love belongs to a film subgenre in which the emotions, motivations, psychoses and compulsions of film noir were transplanted into stories set at the turn of the 19th Century. "Gaslight noir" was enriched by the likes of Thorold Dickinson's British Gaslight (1940) and George Cukor's 1944 American remake, John Brahm's Hangover Square (1945), Robert Siodmak's The Spiral Staircase (1945), Gregory Ratoff's Moss Rose and Arthur Lubin's Footsteps in the Fog (1955). If this elegant category seems incongruous to the career of Hal Wallis - remembered for his westerns (Gunfight at the OK Corral , True Grit ) and Elvis vehicles (King Creole , Blue Hawaii ) - it bears mentioning that the maverick independent producer was an unabashed Anglophile. Wallis' love for all things British extended to building himself a $30,000 replica of an English manor in the San Fernando Valley. The Wallis estate was home to apricot and walnut trees (Wallis also owned orange groves, whose yield he sold to Sunkist) and boasted a state-of-the-art projection room whose hydraulic screen rose from the floor and whose booth was hidden behind tasteful portraiture. So Evil My Love was a relatively minor credit for Wallis, who scored late in life with the veddy British trifecta of Becket (1964), Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) and Mary, Queen of Scots (1971).
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Director: Lewis Allen
Screenplay: Ronald Millar, Leonard Spigelgass (writer); Joseph Shearing (novel)
Cinematography: Max Greene
Art Direction: Thomas N. Morahan
Music: William Alwyn, Victor Young
Film Editing: Vera Campbell, Leonard Trumm
Cast: Ray Milland (Mark Bellis), Ann Todd (Olivia Harwood), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Susan Courtney), Leo G. Carroll (Jarvis), Raymond Huntley (Henry Courtney), Raymond Lovell (Edgar Bellamy), Martita Hunt (Mrs. Courtney), Moira Lister (Kitty Feathers), Roderick Lovell (Sir John Curle), Muriel Aked (Miss Shoebridge).
by Richard Harland Smith
Wide-Eyed in Babylon: An Autobiography by Ray Milland (Ballantine Books, 1974)
Hal Wallis: Producer to the Stars by Bernard F. Dick (The University of Kentucky Press, 2004)
Rose Petals, Drops of Blood: The Life of Marjorie Bowen, Mistress of the Macabre by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, www.violetbooks.com