Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

Chase-Crooked-posterThis clever mystery with a strong cast and memorable payoff stars Anne Baxter as an heiress driven to near madness when a man turns up claiming to be her dead brother and everybody but her believes him. Richard Todd is the smooth impostor and Herbert Lom the understandably confused police inspector. Set among the wealthy elite of Barcelona, this atmospheric little movie benefits enormously from a clever script that doesn’t outstay its welcome and some fine visuals courtesy of director Michael Anderson. We begin in a darkened room as two conspirators watch some surveillance footage …

The following review is offered for Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason at Sweet Freedom.

“You ought to be spanked for this …”

The man and woman (Richard Todd and Faith Brook) in a darkened room in contemporary Barcelona are planning something sinister involving young heiress Kimberley Prescott (Baxter), who is recovering in the family’s holiday villa from the double shock of her brother’s death in a car accident and her father’s suicide. She is just getting ready to turn in for the night after a party when she sees Todd in the shadows. She orders him out but he claims to be un-amused by her games and makes himself comfortable, claiming to be her brother Ward, a man who apparently died a year ago. Police Commissar Vargas (Lom) is called in and initially takes her side – only the man’s credentials check out – it seems he really is her brother. He seems to know all about the family’s history and all attempts to trick him with minute details that only Ward would know fail. He even has the right tattoo on his arm …

Chase-A-Crooked-Shadow-04He explains that it was his passenger who died in the car crash and that he has been suffering from amnesia. But she says he is an imposter. Even their uncle (Alexander Knox) says that the man really is Ward. Is she going mad? Overnight he replaces the servants and cuts off her lines of communication, putting great strain on Kim, who suffered a nervous collapse after her family bereavements. It turns out that some $10m in diamonds went missing when her father died in South Africa and it seems that ‘Ward’ is really after the loot. Or is there something else? As Hitchcock had already shown with Stage Fright, the usually heroric Todd could be used in more equivocal roles very effectively and he has a great time playing the baddie while Baxter, who often seemed to be on the verge of nervous collapse even the parts didn’t require it, is perfectly cast.

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There is quite a lot of location shooting for this modest suspenser – mainly around Tamariu on the Costa Brava – most notably for a dynamic sequence in which Todd and Baxter drive at top speed along some very perilous roads. However, the film is most effective in the studio, with its expressionistic lighting, flamboyant wide angle camera angles, in-depth compositions (even a hand-held shot) and tightly controlled compositions, all hallmarks of the long and fruitful collaboration between director Michael Anderson and cinematographer Erwin Hillier. The two worked on a total of 11 films together including The Dam Busters (also starring Todd) and The Quiller Memorandum (which I previously reviewed here) and this is one of their most purely entertaining.

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This an atmospheric suspense movie that wants to do nothing else than try and catch the audience out – first time I saw it I was completely fooled but have enjoyed repeated viewing thanks to the great look of the films and its top-notch cast. Colin more than gave the original film version its due over at his fine blog, Riding the High Country and you should head over there right now. So, if you haven’t caught up with this film, then you really should. However, it is certainly worth pointing out that this clever story may seem strangely familiar even if the film is new to you – why? Well, let’s just say that its parentage is slightly convoluted to say the least. The basic outline of the movie’s plot, of a woman who stands to inherit who is presented with an impostor pretending to be her dead brother, and with the same basic twist at the end, was actually first heard as a radio play for the long-running anthology The Whistler, and the script and the play itself are easy to find online. Here are the details:

1946: The Whistler (radio) – episode “Stranger in the House” (2 Sptember 1946 – repeated 2 June 1948)
Written by Harold Swanton and Mark Smith
You can read the script from the 1948 performance here - and either listen to it here or download it from the Internet Archive.

1955: The Whistler (TV) – broadcast on 2 March 1955. The radio story was subsequently adapted for the TV version of The Whistler starring Virginia Field, Douglas Kennedy and Everett Glass.

Chase-A-Crooked-Shadow-01

1958: After this came Chase a Crooked Shadow, which doesn’t credit The Whistler script as a source however. One book claims that it was actually derived from a TV play that the film’s screenwriter Charles Sinclair had previously co-written with William Fings. Intriguingly, the film itself was later turned into a stage play, ‘Double Cut ‘, adapted by experienced film and TV scribe Alfred Shaughnessy. The play was published in 1985 and the earliest performance I can find a reference to seems to have been staged the year before. But this is not the end of the story (sic) because its lineage has spawned several other iteration. In chronological order, they are:

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1960: Piege Pour Un Homme Seul by Robert Thomas
This French stage play, a comedy thriller, was an immediate hit when performed on the Paris stage but changed the plot somewhat so it is now a husband who reports his wife missing and is then presented with an impostor. It was later performed on Broadway in 1965 in an adaptation by Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert as ‘Catch Me If You Can’. The French play has been presented under a variety of translated titles over the decades, including “Trap for a Single Man”, “Man trap”, “Trap for a Lonely Man” or “Trap for a Solitary Man.” Shortly after its premiere it was announced that Alfred Hitchcock was planning to turn the play into a movie, but nothing came of it. To read more about the play, you should check out Martin Edwards’ blog here. It has however been filmed many times – in France, Russia and the US. The most notable English-language versions include the following three TV-Movies:

1969: Honeymoon with A Stranger (TV Movie)
Written by Henry Sleaser and David P. Harmon Directed by John Peyser
Starring: Janet Leigh, Rossano Brazzi, Barbara Steele, Cesare Danova
Allegedly the worst version of these but I’ve never seen it and it is set in Italy, so might be worth at least one look …

1976: One of My Wives is Missing (TV Movie)
Written by Peter Stone Directed by Glenn Jordan
Starring: Jack Klugman, James Franciscus, Elizabeth Ashley, Joel Fabiani, Garry Walberg
Possibly the best of the adaptations thanks to a witty, razor-sharp script by the late, great Peter Stone (here using hin ‘Pierre Marton’ nom-de-guerre). James Franciscus is the husband with the missing wife and a pre-Quincy Jack Klugman as the local cop investigating. You can currently view it on YouTube.

1987: Vanishing Act (TV Movie)
Written by Richard Levinson and William Link Directed by David Greene
Starring: Mike Farrell, Elliot Gould, Margot Kidder, Fred Gwynne
A well cast remake with a classy script by the team of Levinson and Link (creators of Columbo, Mannix and Murder, She Wrote) and now set in a ski resort. There is a trailer here.

DVD Availability: This film is available in an excellent DVD in Italy though like the versions available in other territories it is presented open matte and not in the original widescreen. The disc I have actually plays in widescreen on my TV but it turns out it is just cropping to the top and bottom of the image so if you alter the TV’s settings it is full frame – oh well …

Director: Michael Anderson
Producer: Douglas Fairbanks Jr
Screenplay: David D. Osborn and Charles Sinclair
Cinematography: Erwin Hillier
Art Direction: Paul Sheriff
Music: Matyas Seiber (guitar solos played by Julian Bream)
Cast: Anne Baxter, Richard Todd, Herbert Lom, Alexander Knox, Faith Brook

***** (3.5 fedora tips out of 5)

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36 Responses to Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

  1. TracyK says:

    This does sound good and the history of its background is very interesting.

  2. Sergio – Interesting isn’t it how that basic plot line has been used through time. And it can be done effectively as you point out. It allows for the unreliable (but not really) narrator which can be quite suspenseful. That plot point (‘though not of course the plot itself) is also quite effective in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. Thanks for sharing this one with us – it does seem worth a view.

  3. Colin says:

    Good write-up of a very enjoyable film Sergio. Anderson was very good at drawing out the suspense and the look of the whole thing is appropriately threatening and keeps the viewer unsure. I was totally taken in when I first watched it too but there artistry of the movie is such that it doesn’t depend solely on this aspect.
    There’s a small cast but I agree the actors are ideal for their roles.

    I’ve seen Vanishing Act on TV many years ago and still recall it but I’m not sure about One of My Wives is Missing – I have a hunch I’ve seen it too but I’ll have to watch it again – didn’t know it was available online.

    And thanks too for the link back to me – I appreciate it.

    • Thanks Colin – I think One of My Wives is Missing is probably the best of the adaptations of the Thomas play I’ve seen. What I have not seen is the play performed on stage, which would be nice – unlike Crooked, the treatment is much more humorous and I think works well actually. I do love the early films of Anderson and Guillermin, they oftehn feel like a cross between Hitchcock and Bava!

      • Colin says:

        Nice description! Speaking of Guillermin, have you ever seen The Whole Truth? It sounds interesting and I’ve been eying the US MOD.

        • Wow, saw that one a couple of decades ago (or more, on Channel 4 I think) and was keen because it was written by one of my favourite authors, Jonathan Latimer – must admit, it didn’t make much of an impression but it has been so long that I can’t really comment, sorry about that. By the way, belatedly, couple of discs should be making their way to you (I think I got the technology to work on the new computer – things used to be so much easier with Windows 98 …)

          • Colin says:

            Thank you very much!

            I’d like to get The Whole Truth at some point just to see what it’s like, though it will probably turn up somewhere in Europe sooner or later.

          • If I can get hold of a copy I’ll let you know … I would like to re-watch it sometime and I may know someone who has it in fact – you’ve got me thinking …

          • Colin says:

            Seeing as we’re racing off on wild tangents here, another Todd thriller I need to pick up is The Venetian Bird. It’s not the greatest film but kind of fun, and the new UK release has to be an improvement on the ropey old copy I possess.

          • That’s from a Victor Canning book I think and I used to quite like his stuff – yes, definitely an afternoon TV screening may have been my only exposure to it. I’s like to get the Guy Green from HOUSE OF SECRETS – I’m sure it’s not any great shakes but I think was shotin VistaVision and Bryan Forbes wrote the screnplay and I remember watching that in the late 70s as a kid and liking it.

          • Colin says:

            Don’t believe I’ve ever seen that one.

          • I’m not surprised – I think I must have watched kid’s serial Septimus and the Danedyke Mystery on TV (adaoted by Willis Hall) starring Michael Craig and got interested in his stuff and there must have been a screening of House of Secrets around that time – I literally haven’t seen it since so … Here’s a clip:

          • Colin says:

            Excellent, that looks fun.

          • Apparently shown on Channel 4 circa 2005 – I am putting feelers out so will get back to you – but I agree, the new DVD of VENETIAN BIRD looks great

          • PS some nice clips and stills at Silver Screen Sirens.

          • Colin says:

            Cheers, that looks really attractive!

  4. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Great review and I like the sound of this. Todd was a more versatile actor than he often gets credit for, methinks!

  5. Todd Mason says:

    Very nice rundown, Sergio! I’m always glad to see THE WHISTLER properly credited…

    • Thanks Todd – it is especially nice that the Whistler radio play (anbd script) are so readily available so we can make our own minds up about how strong an influence it may have had …

  6. Patti Abbott says:

    I am a sucker for this sort of story but doubt I have seen anyone of its incarnations here. I’ll look for it,

  7. Intriguing sounding film, and I like the idea of location shooting. also your roundup of the history and different versions was fascinating.

  8. Yvette says:

    Sounds good, Sergio. I can’t imagine Anne Baxter and Richard Todd as brother and sister though. What about his accent and her…uh, lack of one? At any rate, I’m going to put this on my TBW (to be watched) list, so thanks for the intro. :)

    • Hope you enjoy it Yvette – actually, Todd was Irish-born and does amend his usual clipped delivery ever-so-slightly – but then, they are both supposed to be playing South Africans!!

  9. Giles says:

    Nice write up, Sergio. This is a great film with an incredibly satisfying ending.

    I sometimes conflate this with the Jimmy Sangster-penned Scream of Fear (aka Taste of Fear) which incorporates some of the same themes but this is the better movie of the two.

  10. Nicely reviewed, Sergio. I agree, the basic storyline seems very familiar. I have seen something similar in a movie, I think, though I can’t place it right now. Maybe, it’ll come back later.

  11. neer says:

    Sergio, there are a couple of Hindi movies that are based on this premise. One of them is Khoj (The Search) which came out in 1989 and has the husband reporting his wife missing scenario. Definitely gave me a jolt when I first saw it.

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