Cast & Crew
David I. Starrling, a loving husband and devoted father, returns to his New York City apartment, following a brief business trip, only to discover that his wife Celia has been having an affair with Crane Weymouth, the fiancé of Celia's sister, Dell Faring. David shields his six-year-old daughter Susan from his discovery, but reveals his knowledge to Dell, Crane and Celia later that evening during a dinner party. At the end of the evening, after Dell and Crane have left, David angrily confronts Celia, and as he approaches her brandishing his souvenir handgun, she panics and knocks him unconscious with a hand-held mirror. Moments later, Dell returns to the apartment and finds her sister crying in her bedroom, certain that she has inadvertently killed her husband. After reassuring Celia that David is merely unconscious, Dell places David's gun in her coat pocket and accuses Celia of stealing her fiancé.
As her anger rises, Dell reaches into her coat pocket and fires the gun at Celia, killing her instantly. Just then, Susan enters the bedroom, sees her parents lying on the floor and screams. David eventually regains consciousness and is later tried for the murder of his wife. The jury finds David guilty of first degree murder, and the judge sentences him to death. Because he is unable to remember what happened after he was knocked unconscious by his wife, David accepts the verdict and resigns himself to spending the rest of his life on death row.
Dell, who watched the trial in silence, continues to suppress the truth about the murder, even when she becomes tormented by feelings of guilt. Susan, who has developed psychological problems after seeing her mother dead, is placed under the care of psychiatrists Dr. Hodge and Dr. Caroline Canford at Children's Hospital. After studying Susan's play through a one-way mirror, Caroline begins to suspect that there may have been a third person in the bedroom when Susan entered it. Dell eventually learns about the details of Caroline's examination of Susan and, fearing that the truth may surface, tries to silence the girl by poisoning her chocolate milk.
Her plan fails, however, when Susan accidentally spills the drink. After gaining legal custody of Susan, Dell makes plans to take her to her vacation home in Connecticut. Caroline, however, objects to the trip because she believes that Susan is close to identifying the mysterious person who was in the bedroom at the time of the murder. Because she is unable to prove her suspicions, Caroline is forced comply with Dell's wishes, and she and Dr. Hodge drive Susan to Dell's country home. Just as Caroline and Dr. Hodge are about to leave, Dell turns on a porch light, which casts her shadow onto the side of the house. Susan screams when she recognizes the shadow as being the same one she saw in her parents' bedroom on the night of the murder. Dell then makes a complete confession, after which David is exonerated and released from prison.
Marcia Van Dyke
Thomas Browne Henry
William Norton Bailey
James R. Scott
James K. Brock
Grace Du Bray
Ralph S. Hurst
Edwin B. Willis
Shadow on the Wall
Since the audience is in on the identity of the killer, it is not giving away plot secrets to reveal that Dell herself -- upset because her sister had a fling with her beau -- is the killer. Suspicion, however, falls upon Celia's husband, David (Zachary Scott), who may die in the electric chair if the truth is not uncovered. Meanwhile, although she is actually fond of the little girl, Dell fears the child will recover her memory and schemes to drown or poison her.
Co-starring as the child psychiatrist who tries to unravel the mystery is MGM contract player Nancy Davis, later to become First Lady Nancy Reagan. Also in the cast is Barbara Billingsley, later to play June Cleaver in the long-running television sitcom Leave It to Beaver.
MGM, which had profitably utilized Sothern's comic and musical talents in the long-running "B"-movie comedy series Maisie (1939-1947) and the occasional musical, had dropped her contract in 1947. But after her smashing success at 20th-Century-Fox in A Letter to Three Wives (1949), MGM invited Sothern back for leading roles in Shadow on the Wall and Nancy Goes to Rio (1950). Within a few years, she would largely abandon feature films to turn her full attention to television, where she achieved her greatest success as a sitcom star.
"Hollywood sold its stars on good looks and personality buildups," Sothern would later reflect. "We weren't really actresses in the true sense. We were just big names -- the products of a good publicity department."
Although Sothern delivers solidly in Shadow on the Wall and received some good notices for her performance, most critics had difficulty getting past their own image of her as a "Maisie"-type lightweight. A reviewer for The New York Times wrote that "Ann Sothern, who turns in a polished portrayal, seems out of character as the worried villainess of the piece." And a review in the Library Journal claimed that "Ann Sothern's role suggests that the picture might have been called Maisie Was a Murderess -- though she never overplays."
At the beginning of her MGM contract, the actress billed as Nancy Davis reportedly was romantically involved with studio executive Benny Thau. Most reviewers ignored her performance in Shadow on the Wall, although Variety described Davis as a "comer" who gives a "standout performance."
Forty years after the making of the film, Sothern offered these reflections to Reagan biographer Kitty Kelley, "I remember Nancy Davis as quite soft and pudgy... Although she was pleasant enough, she seemed rather devious to me. I can't tell you exactly why... It's just a feeling I had. Maybe it was because she was so ambitious... She was a tough lady...who definitely knew where she wanted to go."
Producer: Robert Sisk
Director: Pat Jackson
Screenplay: William Ludwig, from story Death in the Doll's House by Lawrence P. Bachmann and Hannah Lees
Cinematography: Ray June
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Eddie Imazu
Original Music: André Previn
Editing: Cotton Warburton (as Irvine Warburton)
Costume Design: Irene
Cast: Ann Sothern (Dell Faring), Zachary Scott (David I Starrling), Gigi Perreau (Susan Starrling), Nancy Davis (Dr. Caroline Canford), Kristine Miller (Celia Starrling), John McIntire (Pike Ludwell).
by Roger Fristoe
Shadow on the Wall
Working titles for this film were Death in a Doll's House, Death in the Doll's House and The Open Door. The Hannah Lees and Lawrence P. Bachmann novel first appeared serially in The Saturday Evening Post (16 January-27 February 1943). Hannah Lees was a pseudonym used by author Elizabeth Head Fetter. A January 1945 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that Roy Rowland was originally set to direct the picture, and that Margaret O'Brien was set to star. The film was the only American picture directed by Patrick Jackson, a British filmmaker who directed several shorts, documentaries and feature-length films in England. M-G-M borrowed Gigi Perreau from Samuel Goldwyn, Zachary Scott from Warner Bros. and Kristine Miller from Paramount for the production. May 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item lists actress Jewel Rose in the cast, but her appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.