Plot Summary for
Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958)
A man shows up at Kimberley Prescott's villa claiming to be her brother. But Ward Prescott died in a car accident a year ago, so how can this man be him? Despite Kim's protests that the stranger isn't her brother, everyone else accepts him, including their uncle. Kim begins to fear for her sanity and her life.
- An early film by the director of Logan's Run and Around the World in 60 Days, this 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 the next decade. Those familiar with Taste of Fear (1961) Paranoiac (1963), etc will know how it goes: 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.
At the heart of the film is heiress Kimberley Prescott (Anne Baxter), startled to be confronted by Williams (Richard Todd), purporting to be her late brother Ward, a man favoured with eerily accurate knowledge of their lives together. 'Ward' promptly installs himself in her Greek chateau along with his helper and butler, while Kimberley desperately tries to enlist the help of sympathetic local policemen Vargas (Herbert Lom). Soon it is clear that 'Ward' is interested in learning more about the diamonds missing from her late husbands business, and she grows more and more threatened..
At the the beginning of the film we see Williams and his associate Elaine (Faith Brook) running through the last few details of their unspecified deception. Arguably this could have been profitably omitted, as these opening moments remove any real doubts as to the nature of Ward's character. Without the prologue, far more emphasis would have been placed on Kimberley's suspect state of mind, the true nature of the ambiguous imposter's intentions would be far more intriguing, and the resulting psychological drama greatly heightened. As it is, the present film is closer to, say, To Catch a Thief (1955) than Suspicion (1941), with correspondingly less psychological complexity.
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 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 characterisation.
The other main problem is with Baxter. 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.
Anderson's film 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's chief achievement here is running the whole narrative so smoothly, and on such a small scale, before springing the final surprise on the audience. If a lot of the result is fairly static, then this can be put down to the casting as well as the characteristics of the script. His next film was to be the far more dynamic Cagney vehicle, Shake Hands With the Devil (1959).
- Don't other people find this film disturbing?
Spoilers A mystery/ suspense thriller, kind of film-noirish (the huge dark brooding mansion, the frightened isolated female, etc). But really, even if she did cause her brother's death and all - was it really fair what that Inspector and all his accomplices did to her? Granted, you can have undercover agents, of course. But should it be allowed, the sheer amount of mental torture that's inflicted on that poor woman in this film? Should the police be allowed to employ such extreme tactics. Well, in the case of someone's who's REALLY villainous I suppose. But a single woman whose motive for killing was really to protect her old ailing and desperate father whom she loved too much (and she didn't even succeed in protecting him, he shot himself) - I think it was too much. (Alright, maybe she was after the diamonds or something as well, but that wasn't the main thing, I don't think.) In fact I don't hesitate in labelling the inspector and his cohorts as being far worse than poor Kim. In fact it's nothing short of appalling the way they all conspire to drive her out of her mind, even threatening to drown her and everything, the way they all gang up on her and stuff.
I suppose though that part where she thinks it's her impostor brother coming through the door so that she tries to kill him by firing that 'spear-gun' (or whatever it is) - that does show how she could be driven to murder again. But then again, this is really only cos she's been unhinged by the tactics of the police. And the main reason why their treatment of her seems so monstrous is simply cos there's so many of them and she's entirely alone. It just isn't fair!
- A twist in the tale
I have to admit, I am a sucker for a plot with a good twist. The problem is they don't grow on trees. Think of the films of recent years and I can only come up with two, "The Usual Suspects" and "The Sixth Sense". Both come into the category of being worth a second look to see how they work and both pass the credibility test with flying colours. There was that detective novelist of yesteryear, Agatha Christie. I lapped up practically every one of her tales as a teenager and a young man. She must have tried out every permutation of the twist imaginable, always giving the satisfaction that, even if you did not guess it, the person who "dun" it was psychologically the only possible candidate. After "Aggie" the detective novel was never quite the same again. By trying to write "real" novels of supposedly literary quality, most writers in this field seemed more interested in realism than clever twists with the result that I rather lost interest in the genre. Again there are very few good twist movies from the time I grew up with cinema. "Les Diaboliques" and "So Long at the Fair" remain excellent examples that give pleasure on repeated showings even with the element of surprise missing. Worth mentioning that, although not quite on their level, I actually discovered a good little twist movie the other day from the same period, "Chase a Crooked Shadow" starring Anne Baxter and Richard Todd. Anne Baxter is in much the same sort of predicament as Jean Simmons in "So Long at the Fair". Instead of her brother disappearing, Anne's supposedly dead brother turns up as someone she does not recognise. She spends much of the film trying to convince friends and police that Richard Todd is not her brother but of course no-one believes her. I suppose that ultimately "Chase a Crooked Shadow" lacks the sense of style of the others I have mentioned. Michael Anderson's direction is rather pedestrian although he does manage a couple of sudden character appearances that made me jump. I don't suppose I shall watch it again as I rather think it has given up all it has to offer but I would certainly recommend it to lovers of Grand Guignol as an hour and a half of mildly pleasurably viewing.
- They don't make them like that, anymore !
When I was a little boy, I had seen the film, but remembered little of it. However, in the early sixties, my Dad took me on a holiday to Spain, to a little village south of Barcelona, called Sitges. During one coach journey, the courier told us that the mountain road that we were now on was the scene of a fast car drive in a film made a couple of years previously, called 'Chase a Crooked Shadow'. I remember the road well, with the cliff drops hundreds of feet below to the sea and this coupled with my fond memory of that holiday in Franco's long gone Spain and the fact that the film itself is a brilliant piece of old cinema with a terrific twist at the end, makes me watch this film over and over again. I see something in it every time I watch it - the sign of a good film!
- The cleverest plot of any movie
I consider this movie as one of the cleverest ever made. It keeps you perplexed till the end. Marvellous acting by all, with Herbert Lom always at his best. B&W very appropriate. Please, Amazon, make it available!
Full Cast and Crew for
Chase a Crooked Shadow (1957)
Writing credits (in alphabetical order)
David D. Osborn
Cast (in credits order) complete, awaiting verification
Richard Todd .... Williams, alias Ward McKenzie Prescott Jr.
Anne Baxter .... Kimberley Prescott
Herbert Lom .... Police Commissar Vargas
Faith Brook .... Elaine Whitman
Alexander Knox .... Chandler Brisson (Uncle Chan)
Alan Tilvern .... Carlos
Thelma D'Aguilar .... Maria
rest of cast listed alphabetically
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. .... Himself (epilogue) (uncredited)
Runtime: USA:87 min
Color: Black and White
Sound Mix: Mono