Only the title and a shortchanged murder trial remain from Margaret Ayer Barnes & Edward Sheldon’s 1930 credited play.* Instead, scripter Edmund North moves his drama into the fashion magazine world of LADY IN THE DARK, the brilliant musical play rubbished on film in 1944 by Mitchell Leisen & Ginger Rogers. Here, Hedy Lamarr, in one of her rare engaged perfs, gets the Rogers’ role as a magazine editor in psychological distress, pursued by a rich older man (John Loder), a sharp, brittle co-worker (William Lundigan), and a studly outsider in pathologist Dennis O’Keefe. (The tallest trio of suitors e’er seen in a single Hollywood film, all six foot plus!) Morris Carnovsky is the wise psychiatrist connecting Lamarr’s two worlds once she leaves the magazine. And he’s the key to her defense when they collide in a murder. It’s all B-pic nonsense, of course, but neatly packaged by journeyman helmer Robert Stevenson. And with a cool bonus from either producer Jack Chertok or composer Carmen Dragon who found a way to use Tchaikovsky’s ubiquitous Romeo & Juliet Fantasy as background music to a violent murder. They must have confused it with the same composer’s Francesca da Rimini.
DOUBLE-BILL: *Optioned by M-G-M, the play, an updated poisoning case from the 1850s, was vetoed by the Hays Office before M-G-M rewrote it for Joan Crawford as LETTY LYNDON/’32. Barnes & Sheldon sued (and won) all the way to the Supreme Court. Their injunction still stands, so you’ll be able to see LETTY LYNDON in about a decade.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: LADY IN THE DARK on film is a botch, a disgrace. Only worth seeing for the mind-boggling oversized furniture in the psychiatrist’s office. Thirty years ago, Barbra Streisand could have done it. Twenty years ago, Madonna. Today? Lady Gaga? (I know, I know, Madonna & the movies, not a match made in heaven. But the legendary play starred Gertrude Lawrence who, like Madonna, could neither sing, act nor look attractive.)