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So Evil My Love
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by Jay Seaver

"Love the evil."
4 stars

Ray Milland had several distinct phases to his career, and as the title may suggest, "So Evil My Love" comes toward the start of his villain years. It's a role that suits him, and while this particular heel is not quite so well-remembered as his turn in Hitchcock's "Dial M for Murder", the film is an enjoyably pulpy bit of gaslight crime.

The film opens with Olivia Harwood (Ann Todd) returning home to London via steamship, a widow who's missionary husband died of malaria in Jamaica. Some on the ship are suffering from the malady as well, including Mark Bellis (Milland), an artist ahead of his time who supplants his meager sales with crime. Though Olivia initially denies the attraction, she agrees to ask her school friend Susan (Geraldine Fitzgerald) for money when Mark is tapped out, his eyes really light up when he learns about some indiscreet letters Susan had written Olivia which the latter had saved - the sort Susan's domineering husband Henry (Raymond Huntley) would rather not come out.

These sorts of plans seldom come off without a hitch, of course, and writers Ronald Millar and Leonard Spigelgass (working from a novel by Joseph Shearing) throw all manner of obstacles in Olivia's and Mark's way. Indeed, one can look at the way Mark Bellis's schemes go sideways over the course of the movie and wind up wondering if maybe he wouldn't be better off getting into the forgery game like his partner-in-crime Jarvis (Leo G. Carroll) suggests, even if respect for the work is apparently the one scruple he has. So Evil My Love doesn't play like a bumbling-criminal movie, though - director Lewis Allen and the writers always make sure that one plan leads into another. Maybe Bellis doesn't plan it this way, but he's ready to seize new opportunities as they come.

Some of those plots may be sketchy, but it's forgivable because the cast and crew make being villains seem like a lot of fun. Of course, there's bad and there's bad - Henry is a controlling, domineering creep, the quintessential "worse guy" that the audience wouldn't particularly mind seeing get taken to the cleaners, while at the other end of the spectrum, Olivia is being carried along by infatuation and a lifetime of repressed propriety. Bellis, meanwhile, seems like more of a romantic scoundrel than Henry, but is just as selfish as anybody; the question, obviously, is whether Mark will influence Olivia more than she does him. Well, and how badly things will turn out for poor, trusting Susan. Sure, a likely answer is spelled out right in the first scene, where Olivia initially turns away from helping nurse the sick on board the ship but soon gives in to her better nature, but the filmmakers do such a fine job of dragging her into the muck that the film ending the same way is no foregone conclusion.

Nobody seems to have more fun being evil than Milland, who attacks the role with a sort of ruthless glee. He does a nice job of letting the audience see both faces at once - the affectionate, seductive one meant for his victims or would-be-accomplices and the one sneering at them for being a sucker; it's also fun to see him somewhat annoyed that he might be starting to have genuine affection for Olivia. Ann Todd is also impressive as Olivia; she does a nice switch from naive to calculating that simultaneously makes her seem both more lost and potentially not completely beyond stepping away from the abyss. The rest of the cast is good, too, from Raymond Huntley and Geraldine Fitzgerald as opposites no longer attracting to Moira Lister as the model Bellis is seeing on the side.

Almost all of them are doing wrong in some way at some time, and they're pretty good at it. "So Evil My Love" is sometimes as melodramatic as its title, but more often than not it's the right sort of crime.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=22571&reviewer=371
originally posted: 06/17/11 13:40:54
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USA
  21-Jul-1948

UK
  03-Mar-1948

Australia
  N/A




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