The deliciously-titled So Evil My Love (1948) takes film noir to Victorian London and adds a Gothic twist of lust, jealousy, and betrayal.
Ann Todd stars as Olivia Harwood, the widow of a missionary on a voyage home from the Caribbean to a joyless life in England. She’s disillusioned and a little bitter at the hand she’s been dealt, but she’s briefly pulled out of her self-pity when she helps out tending to an ill passenger during an illness on the voyage.
She falls for her patient, an artist who goes by the name Mark Bellis (Ray Milland). The darkly handsome artist, however, is also a cold-blooded con artist and thief wanted by the London police. Shifty, manipulative, and darkly seductive, and he targets Olivia as his next seduction as he tracks down his former lover for money.
Mark sees blackmail potential in Olivia’s old school chum Susan (Geraldine Fitzgerald), now miserably married to a cruel aristocratic Henry (Raymond Huntley), a man as mercenary in his way as Mark. Initially a reluctant accomplice Olivia becomes a quick study, intoxicated and empowered with each step.
So Evil My Love is as dark as the title suggests. Mark is mercenary in all aspects of life except his art, which he refuses to prostitute for money, and he’s almost shocked to discover that he actually fallen in love with Olivia. That at least gives Mark a touch of humanity, something lacking in the elitist and impotent Henry, who wields his entitlement like a weapon to destroy the mind and spirit of Susan, perhaps the only innocent in the whole tangled web.
Meanwhile the church, usually off limits to films of the era, offers little support to Olivia after all of her sacrifices as a missionary, which only adds to her simmering resentment. When Mark unleashes her suppressed passions, he also unleashes her inner femme fatale. She embraces it with vigor.
British filmmaker Lewis Allen directs this American production in England with a British cast and crew, which gives the film a rich sense of time and place. Leo G. Carroll costars.
Black and white
Kino’s Blu-ray and DVD releases feature commentary by film historian Imogen Sara Smith.