Good twisty tale handicapped by casting
By a customer
from Tombstone, Enfield
, 16 Oct 2008
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'Wade', the upright Todd is simply too stiff an actor to suggest the subtle menace the part requires, although his withdrawn manner does generate some suspense.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).
- Was this review helpful to you?
(1) Yes |