Chase A Crooked Shadow (1958 UK)

chase-a-crooked-shadow-03This one’s main strength is its plot, which spins a fairly gripping early variation on the are-they aren’t-they mad? scenario which proved such a fruitful ground for British suspense films of that era. An isolated victim in peril from immediate family; lingering doubts of the identity of those closest to her; suggestions of beckoning insanity, overtones of incestuousness, obligatory last minute revelations, and so on. This is memorable for its haunting guitar theme and superb Spanish locations looking cool in black & white.

A talky film like this, with a small number of principals and some exotic location exteriors, stands or falls on the relative few elements of staging. Unfortunately, while blessed with an excellent script, Chase a Crooked Shadow is somewhat handicapped by the two leads. As the interloper ‘Wade’, the upright Richard Todd is simply too stiff an actor to suggest the subtle menace the part requires, although his withdrawn manner does generate some suspense. The lack of any serious doubt about his intention to deceive never makes of his a particularly sympathetic character, although the extent of his intimate family knowledge is provoking (if never really explained). Straight backed, perfectly tailored, Todd’s clipped delivery does induces some suspense as if by default, but the actor never unbends enough to add a necessary third dimension to his characterization.

The other main problem is with Anne Baxter. She does look wealthy and spoilt though. While sympathetic enough as the put-upon, shrinking heroine in the first part of the film, as events unfold and more elements of her character emerge, she finds it harder to convey the harder edge subsequent revelations demand. The end of the film, while offering an effective last minute twist, simply demands more than the actress can provide. Her final wilting, and lack of larcenous guile, has the effect of making the efforts of law enforcement appear cruel and heavy handed. Morally speaking, they appear to be taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. In contrast Herbert Lom does his usual excellent job in a supporting role, fleshing out the unspoken concerns of Vargas as best he can.

Michael Anderson (the movie’s director) makes little use of the gothic possibilities of the setting, setting a fair number of scenes in well lit rooms or during daylight. Only towards the end, as Kimberley’s anxieties reach a peak, does the director seek to trap her more within the shadows and decorative grills of her environment : having the heroine back nervously into a niche for instance ,while her tormentors pass her by; or her firing a spear gun into the threatening darkness of the boathouse (a place at the heart of her secret in more than one sense). The final twist is a celebrated one and is as little telegraphed as one might wish. Anderson runs the whole narrative so smoothly, and on such a small scale, before springing the final surprise on the audience. Despite some faults that I’ve detailed here, I highly recommend buying this on dvd. It is classy and is still enjoyable on repeat viewings.



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