Lana Turner and Anthony Quinn are lovers who murder Lana's cruel, but wealthy husband, played by Lloyd Nolan. Since Quinn is her husband's physician, the murder is easily committed, but blackmail, guilt and suspicion are the unanticipated results.Written by
Jeanne Armintrout <email@example.com>
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Portrait In Black is in many respects typical of the Ross Hunter films that rejuvenated Lana Turner's later career. If you're a fan of the genre, this one is quite entertaining, and in my opinion far superior to the previous year's terrible remake of Imitation of Life.
Portrait In Black brings us a torrid soap opera revolving around the relationship between the wife of a wealthy shipping magnate, Sheila Cabot, and her husband's physician, Dr. David Rivera. Unable to bear having only a few stolen moments for the each other, they conspire to murder Sheila's husband so they can be together. They subsequently find themselves blackmailed and must determine who is the blackmailer and how they will extricate themselves from this web of danger that continues to keep them separated.
As previous reviewers have pointed out, there are some rather silly aspects to the story, but these again are typical of the genre. For beginners, Sheila's husband Matt Cabot is said to have a hopeless terminal illness and to have been ill for many months. Thus, their motivation for murdering him is rather weak; he will soon die without any malicious intent on their part. If they really could not bear the wait, the idea proposed in the script, that they cannot just run away together because Matt Cabot would ruin Dr. Rivera's career and he would "never practice medicine again", is a rather unrealistic threat (although admittedly common in soap opera land). Dr. Rivera's home gives the impression he is already quite wealthy, it is not as though these two would be condemned to a life of poverty and want. These plot holes are exasperated by the poorly directed love scenes between David and Sheila, which consist of much-overplayed melodramatic panting, gasping, crying, and an inordinate and unnatural amount of chewing on one another's hands. Secondly, there are a few script blunders that could have been easily corrected. When Dr. Rivera requires Sheila to drive, he puts her in the car and has to explain what the gas and brake are for, yet in scene one we are told Sheila has been issued a learner's permit by the Department of Motor Vehicles. A learner's permit allows one to drive so long as another licensed driver is present, and one would obviously have to have mastered the basics of what makes the car go in order to be issued such a permit. The plot of device that Sheila "doesn't drive" would have been far more believable without the unnecessary learner's permit in the script. There are a number of similar absent-minded script errors here.
Having said that, one does not watch a period Ross Hunter soaper for realism. One watches it for drama, and the lush and beautiful feel we expect from Mr. Hunter. In this regard, Portrait does not disappoint. Our setting is upper crust Nob Hill in San Francisco. The Cabot home, with the exception of the library being inexplicably painted black, is breathtaking. Lana Turner is stunning, and of course immaculately outfitted in high class fashions, shoes, hats, furs, and jewels at all times, as is Sandra Dee in her second role as Lana Turner's daughter (well, step-daughter in this one). Drama abounds and the at times weak script is handled expertly by the well seasoned cast, including Richard Basehart, Ray Walston, Virginia Grey, Anna Mae Wong, and John Saxon. While Anthony Quinn would have been ideally suited to his role of Dr. David Rivera if the film had been made fifteen years earlier, he is so badly addled by Michael Gordon's incompetent direction in this role it makes him seem a bit past it (with the exception of Pillow Talk, none of Mr. Gordon's films are particularly well directed).
All things considered, this film easily meets its purpose, to entertain and is fun to watch if you can find it. It is not out on DVD, is no longer available on VHS, and is seldom aired on television. But if you get the chance, it's well worth a watch.
UPDATE: This film was release on DVD in Jan 2008, and it looks great!
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