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Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958)

Here’s a nifty Hitchcock like thriller that sees Anne Baxter as a young woman confronted with the reappearance of her brother one year after she identified his body in the morgue following a car accident. Directed by Michael Anderson the film boasts a quartet of actors most classic film fans are sure to easily recognize. Alongside Miss Baxter is Richard Todd, Alexander Knox and one of my personal favorites, Mr. Herbert Lom.

Filmed in black and white and partially on location in Spain, the film’s trajectory is set in motion when Todd is watching some film footage of a private country estate located outside Barcelona. Cut to a dinner party at the ocean side property and Baxter saying goodnight to her Uncle played by Knox who leaves the estate by car. The hour is late and Baxter is set to retire for the evening when a man steps out of the shadows. It’s Todd who carries on as if he’s her brother looking to be welcomed home.

Baxter, an heiress to a fortune is having none of it and promptly puts in a call to the local police captain, Herbert Lom. (and no he isn’t playing Chief Inspector Dreyfuss and his eye isn’t twitching either) Lom arrives in the dead of night and Todd’s passport looks legit so when Baxter objects and has the photos of her brother fetched from her room they too are the spitting image of Todd.

And so Miss Baxter’s nightmare begins.

Todd begins to live life as her brother and has brought along  a coldhearted Faith Brook as a housekeeper. The two are quite obviously connected in the game of deceit. But what is the prize? They appear to be cutting off Baxter from the outside world and she will again plead her case to Lom who isn’t quite sure who to believe and is playing it close to the vest.

Even when Todd is alone with Baxter he’s not letting down his act. This leads to a wonderfully filmed car ride along the coastal line at high speeds. It’s a perfectly edited clip that sees Todd in the driver seat of a sporty convertible and Anne at his side. With some rear projection reaction shots spliced into some “live” footage the scene plays well and I’m quite sure that is indeed Todd at the wheel on occasion in real time.

With Lom present, Baxter, is sure she’s about to expose Todd for a phony when Uncle Knox returns to the estate. If you haven’t seen the picture you can just imagine the look of defeat on her face when Knox welcomes Todd back from the “dead.” And now the reason for our deception ….. a fortune in diamonds.

It seems that following the death of her brother, her father committed suicide and somehow has hidden a fortune in precious stones. But who has them now and where have they been hid? Then again is the deception all a figment of Baxter’s imagination and is she indeed losing her grip on sanity as has been suggested to Lom?

That’s all you’ll get from me concerning this shadowy thriller that I found to be quite engaging and kept me guessing until the very end.

While it’s very “Hitchcockian” in delivery I actually found that this Douglas Fairbanks Jr. production played much like the thrillers that were yet to come from Hammer Films once the 1960’s took hold. Films like Paranoiac, Nightmare and Scream of Fear. Including the word Shadow in the title of this feature is more than appropriate considering the many dark sequences we’re to witness in the film’s 87 minute running time highlighted by characters emerging from the depths of the darkness into Miss Baxter’s world delivering a a few good jolts throughout. Producer Fairbanks Jr. actually makes a personal appearance on screen as the credits begin to roll following the answer to our mystery imploring the audience not to divulge the final reel of the film to those who have yet to witness it.

A good idea considering the twists and turns that lay in wait for our attractive leading lady.

Director, Anderson, was coming off the big budget success of Around the World in 80 Days (1956) and had some other big scale productions ahead of him including The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968) and Logan’s Run (1976). While he was associated with some major productions he turned in some good work in these lesser known titles looking back. Chase a Crooked Shadow among them. Some others that are easy to recommend are The Dam Busters (1955), Shake Hands With the Devil (1959), The Quiller Memorandum (1966) and even Orca (1977). Saw that one at the theater as a kid so of course it carries fond memories for yours truly.

By this point Anne Baxter had scored plenty of memorable roles. From All About Eve to Heston’s temptress, Nefretiri, in The Ten Commandments. Following Chase a Crooked Shadow she would spend more time on the small screen in the years ahead on everything from the 60’s cult hit, Batman, to Mannix and The Love Boat.

Leading man Todd had already worked with the director on both The Dam Busters and Battle Hell (1957) prior to this production. Still to come they’d work together on the big budget war flick from Carlo Ponti, Operation Crossbow (1965) starring the producer’s wife, Sophia Loren. Like Todd, Lom, had also worked with Anderson previously on Hell Is Sold Out (1951).

Easy to recommend to fans who like a good mystery in the Hitchcock/Hammer mold, I came across this playing on TCM and with the cast involved it was an easy decision to check it out.

8 Comments »

  1. Anne Baxter is one of those fine actresses who I don’t think gets talked about as much as her contemporaries. I loved all her episodes of Adam West’s Batman, and she was just all around talented. Herbert Lom didn’t get to play the good guy much, but when he did he did it well. This is another one I’m not sure I’ve heard of before, but it does look interesting.

    • She was indeed. And easily identifiable. Had a distinct voice and look about her. Lom was usually a credit to most any film he appeared in. A real old time pro. Could play nasty with ease but had some nice sympathetic roles too. Hell Drivers comes to mind.

  2. But a really enjoyable thriller. The Spanish locations added a different feel. Anne Baxter was ace and the whole beginning scenes when he enters the house were brilliantly played. The speed car scenes were frantic too. The poster design is amazing too.
    I did write on my mini review “Great beginning, excellent end but the middle was, dare I say, a little bit crooked!” I do hope to catch it again sometime soon though.

  3. I like the sound of this one, so I’ll see if I can track it down. Seems like it might be a bit noirish, too, which for me of course is a plus, along with the Hitchcockian feel. And that poster isn’t bad, either!

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