Sandra Dee :

"Portrait in Black" (1960)


Plot Summary:

San Francisco shipowner Matthew Cabot is chained to his bed and dependent on a daily injection given by Dr. David Rivera. Yet he unbrokenly reigns his shipping empire and also his second wife (and mother of little Peter) Sheila, who loathes Cabot. Neither Cabot nor his grown-up daughter Cathy know that Sheila has an affair with Dr. Rivera. One day Rivera announces that he will go to Switzerland. Sheila is desperate and urges Rivera not to go, but Rivera is afraid of what he would do if he stayed: At the daily injection a simple bubble of air would be sufficient to kill Matthew Cabot. Sheila persuades Rivera not to leave....

The next day Cathy meets her love, towing entrepreneur Blake Richardson, to tell him, that he will get a towing contract with the Cabot line. Blake already knows and has mixed feelings, as his father had been a victim of machinations of the Cabot Line. Suddenly Cathy notices that the Cabot flag is hoisted to half-mast: Her father is dead.

Now manager Howard Mason runs the Cabot Line for Sheila. He also asks her to marry him, but she turns him down. When Mason gives the towing contract to someone else, Blake Richardson storms his bureau and demands that he be given what Cabot promised him on the phone. Mason denies that promise and Blake leaves threatening, that he is not through with Mason yet.

Sheila and Rivera are very nervous for fear that someone might detect their relationship and jump to the right conclusion. Then Sheila receives a letter that says: "Dear Mrs. Cabot. Congratulations on the success of your murder."
Who wrote that letter? Connie, the reserved housekeeper, or Cobb, the heavily indebted chauffeur? Just when Sheila and Rivera discuss this in Rivera's office, Howard Mason phones her there. The way he inquires about Sheila seeing Rivera so often and his alert reaction to Sheila using Rivera's first name alarms Rivera. When Sheila tells him about Mason's marriage proposal, Rivera is sure that Mason wrote the letter, trying to force Sheila to marry him.

The next evening Mason visits Sheila to have her sign some documents. The moment Mason's car pulls from the curb, Sheila opens the curtains to signal Rivera, who shoots at Mason in his car but misses. Mason seeks refuge in the Cabot mansion. Too late he realizes that Rivera is the assassin and that Sheila is his accomplice. When he discovers the truth and wants to strike Sheila, Rivera is there and kills him. The shot awakens Peter. Sheila hurries to transfer him to bed and tell him, the loud noise was just a bad dream.

To get rid of Mason's body and car, Rivera and Sheila travel along the costal highway and push Mason in his car down the steep coast. When Mason is found, the police arrests Blake Richards for suspicion of murder. Blake's threat is on tape and he has no alibi, in fact he even missed a date with Cathy, because he was waiting for Mason to beat him up. Cathy is desperate that she can't help Blake. But then little Peter tells her about his dream of Howard Mason and Sheila quarreling and the loud noise, that occured after he woke up.
Horrified Cathy visits Rivera, to discuss her suspicion, that Sheila killed Mason. Rivera doubts Sheila could have disposed of Mason's body and car alone. Cathy rightly guesses that some lover helped her, but Rivera convinces Cathy, that she would believe anything to convince herself that her unloved stepmother is guilty, because that would prove that Blake Richardson is not.

David's nerves are shreds. He resigns from hospital and tells Sheila that he goes away. But then little Peter rushes in with a new letter which he reads aloud: "Dear Mrs. Cabot. My congratulations on the success of your second venture." From the window Sheila and David watch Cobb secretly pack his car with his belongings. When they confront him, Cobb confesses that he had embezzled some money and wanted to take to his heels before Sheila found out. Rivera questions Cobb, whether he had been where the first letter had been mailed. It turns out that that had in fact been there - he drove Sheila, who mailed the letter!

David's self-control goes to pieces. What possessed Sheila to write those letters? Sheila explains that she felt she was losing him and had to find a way to keep him with her. She urges David not to leave her and not to hate her. Desperately they kiss. Just then Cathy comes in, sees them embraced and realizes the whole truth.
Rivera pursues Cathy upstairs, into her room, out of the window and along the facade, then he loses his balance, falls to the ground and breaks his neck.


Acclaimed producer Ross Hunter teamed Lana Turner and Anthony Quinn in this glamorous and provocative murder mystery. Even though there is no doubt who are the villains, this thriller is full of suspense, and only Sandra Dee stops us from shivering with Turner and Quinn. The film stands out with lavish sets and costumes, and one hardly can escape the impression of its ominious photography.

Thanks to Arnold Stark for this review!

For a picture of the poster from "Portrait In Black"

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