Man In The Shadow (1957)
This Universal International production isn’t pulling any punches in it’s opening scenes when a young immigrant boy is dragged from a bunk house and beaten to death in a tool shed. The music is stern and the killers are two top baddies from fifties cinema. Leo Gordon and John Larch. This modern day western was directed by cult favorite Jack Arnold of countless “creature” flicks including the one who rose from the depths of the Black Lagoon.
When an old man proves to be the lone witness the life of small town sheriff Jeff Chandler is about to take a turn towards violence and cowardice from those around him. It seems that the ranch where the supposed murder occurred is owned and operated by the all powerful Orson Welles. Welles doesn’t take kindly to Chandler coming out and asking a bunch of questions. He quickly pulls the “I am a powerful man” routine on Jeff and lays down a firm warning while chomping down on his overly large cigar.
Jeff quickly responds, “You can push your wetbacks and your white trash around all you want, but don’t try it on me. ” The plots direction has been firmly set when Jeff discovers that Welles’ daughter played by Colleen Miller had befriended the young victim.
Quickly entering High Noon territory, Jeff learns that most of the men in town want him to just drop the case. Welles is the town’s main benefactor and his ranch is the only source of income to keep people afloat. Paul Fix and William Schallert lead the town council and Fix makes his presence felt but Jeff isn’t backing down. Welles’ egotistical land baron has either ordered a killing or is covering one up and Chandler wants to see justice done.
Like Gary Cooper in High Noon, Jeff won’t have to many friends standing by his side but he does find an ally in character favorite Royal Dano as the final showdown approaches. Even his Deputy Ben Alexander has let him down much the way Coop’s did.
Chandler makes for a fine County Sheriff in this quickly paced thriller. He has three solid villains to contend with. Welles, Larch and Gordon. There’s sure to be fists flying and gunplay before the final fade out. He’ll also find out if he has any friends left in town after suffering a thorough going over from heavy set Gordon.
I really do like this film that sways towards vigilante justice nearing the end. It’s a western plot line that had been done before but seems a bit closer in tone to the films that were nearing in the seventies than those that had come before it. I never spoil the outcomes but I do wish it had a firmer hand towards the pay off.
A wonderful cast of character players are involved here from Royal Dano on down. Even James Gleason appears briefly as the town drunk. If I didn’t know any better I’d almost think this was the Andy Griffith show gone wrong.
Any opportunity I get to see Jeff Chandler on screen works for me. He seemed to work well in most genres as a leading man and if it hadn’t been for his unfortunate death at an early age who knows what roles may have been waiting for him in the decade to follow. A sad loss to the world of films.
Not great but solid. Surely worth a look should you find the time and locate a copy.