By the late 1950’s, Lana Turner was experiencing a career resurgence. Kicked off by her Oscar nomination for her role in Peyton Place, followed by the media frenzy surrounding her involvement in the 1958 Johnny Stompanato murder, and the 1959 release of Imitation of Life, produced by Ross Hunter and directed by Douglas Sirk, which proved to be one of the biggest box office successes of her career. For her next film, Turner once again joining forces with Ross Hunter for Portrait in Black, directed by Michael Jordan, who is the grandfather of Joseph Gordon Levitt (Inception).
Portrait in Black has all the glitz of a typical of Ross Hunter production. Lana Turner wears some stunning Jean Louis creations, draped in enough jewelry to open her own store. The story, based on an original play by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts (who also penned the screenplay adaptation), is a murder mystery with some noir sensibilities. However, the whole thing is so over the top, it’s pure camp. It goes on a bit long, but it’s never boring!
Shelia Cabot (Turner) is tired of nursing her wealthy, controlling invalid husband, Matthew (Lloyd Nolan, Airport). The only happiness in her life is the passionate affair she’s having with Mathew’s doctor, David Rivera (Anthony Quinn, The Black Swan) Together, the couple decide to murder Matthew, so they can start a life together.
After the murder, things look good until Shelia receives a letter in the mail with “congratulations” on their successful murder. This sends them into a flurry of worry. Who sent the letter? The chauffeur who keeps hovering around the mailbox? The housekeeper? Shelia’s angry step-daughter? Her fiancée, who has a score to settle with the Cabot family? The intrigue is deep, but the melodrama is thick. Lana Turner really lays it on, and so does everyone else. It might be fun (or exhausting) to count the number of times she opines, “Oh David… David!”
A highlight of the film is David, very quickly, trying to teach Shelia to drive. “You step on the brake — here. You release the emergency. You push this button: D. This pedal makes the car go. This one makes it stop. All you have to do is steer it. Sheila, the car practically drives itself! Now, can you remember all that?” “I’ll try!” she gasps. Yeah, if you love campy movies, Portrait in Black is the gift that keeps on giving.
Turner’s acting is rather mechanical, but it gets the job done. Anthony Quinn seems uncomfortable at times, either by the character or his senseless actions. I was initially excited to see Sandra Dee in another film with Lana Turner, given their work together in Imitation of Life. However, Dee’s role here as her angry stepdaughter doesn’t cash-in on the chemistry established earlier, to my surprise. Look for Anna May Wong as the mysterious housekeeper, Tawny. Her career stretched back to The Thief of Bagdad with Douglas Fairbanks. This was her last role; she died in 1961.
Presented in 2.00:1 aspect ratio, I would have loved a bit more from this 1080p transfer. The color reproduction fluctuates, particularly in the first 35 minutes or so, of the film. Skin tones have an almost pasty appearance and fail to look normal at any point in the presentation. The film does maintain a nice level of grain. Unfortunately, this Blu-ray transfer doesn’t represent much of a step up from the previous DVD release.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is much better than the video. While it won’t blow anyone away, it sounds crisp throughout. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise. The score by Frank Skinner helps elevate the track.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Film Historian Lee Gambin and Emma Westwood
- Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:08)
Porttrait in Black (1960)
Movie title: Porttrait in Black
Director(s): Michael Jordan
Actor(s): Lana Turner, Anthony Quinn, Richard Basehart , Sandra Dee , John Saxon , Ray Walston
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller