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Movie mystery thrillers are a popular and enduring cinema genre but it is rare to find more than a handful where the moviegoer can't solve the mystery or identify the guilty party before the on-screen experts do. Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958) is no exception and is certainly not going to tax the sleuthing abilities of any armchair detective but it does provide an engaging, character-driven narrative with a novel twist at the end.
The first film produced by Associated Dragon Films, a business venture of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Chase a Crooked Shadow was initially titled Sleep No More during production and is set on the picturesque Costa Brava in Spain. The story focuses on Kimberley Prescott (Anne Baxter), a wealthy heiress who has recently lost both her father to illness and her brother in a fatal car accident. One evening a mysterious stranger (Richard Todd) shows up claiming to be Ward, her late sibling. When he refuses to leave her villa, Kimberley calls the local policeman (Herbert Lom) to arrest him but the stranger is able to produce the proper papers and credentials that prove his claim. He also has made some staffing changes in the house, presenting Kimberley with a new butler and a female companion (Faith Brook). Everyone treats Kimberley as if she is suffering from amnesia and her every effort to reveal the truth ends in failure. But there is one person who knows the truth and can prove her claim - Chandler Brisson (Alexander Knox), an old family friend who knew Ward well. Yet, when he drops in to see her, he greets the mysterious pretender as Kimberley's missing brother without suspicion or hesitation. Is she going crazy or is there a sinister plot afoot to bilk Kimberley of her inheritance and priceless diamonds?
Most viewers will probably solve the mystery well before its final act resolution but there are numerous compensations in the telling, especially the stunning Spanish locations and the crisp black and white cinematography of Erwin Hillier (The Dam Busters , Sands of the Kalahari ). Anne Baxter as the increasingly frightened and confused heroine makes a convincing damsel-in-distress and the movie's ominous and claustrophobic nature is reminiscent of My Name Is Julia Ross (1945), another noir thriller in which a woman is trapped in an isolated mansion, undergoing a severe identity crisis among sinister strangers.
Richard Todd had become a major British star by the time he made Chase a Crooked Shadow but that didn't prevent him from performing his own stunts alongside Anne Baxter in a tense, thrilling driving sequence in the movie, filmed along the sharp twists and turns in a coastal road. According to the actor in his autobiography, In Camera, he recalled, "This is where Anne Baxter earned my wholehearted admiration. For two days we did hair-raising runs along that terrifying course, and she never once flinched or asked for a double to take her place. More than once I nearly scared myself witless, but if she was frightened she never showed it. Perhaps she was unaware how near we were to spinning over the edge at times. Because of the speeds and the nature of the road it was not possible to have us followed or preceded by a camera car, so the cameras were mounted in different positions behind, before and beside the Lagonda, bolted to the car on tubular steel frames...I had to be careful when the camera was stuck out at the side of the car, not to get too close to the rock-face, and was therefore unable to straighten out some of the worst bends. If that camera had hit the cliff, it would have meant a certain crash...It was perhaps the most exciting highlight of the picture, but Anne - who always said she had perfect confidence in me - never knew the degree of risk she took."
Most moviegoers found Chase a Crooked Shadow to be a satisfactory mystery thriller but many critics and reviewers felt that the film's main premise was absurd and overplayed. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, "Mystery thrillers are tricky, and this one eventually becomes so....Frankly, it's nothing amazing, and neither is this film. It's just a moderately well-done program picture, endowed with a couple of standard thrills."
Chase a Crooked Shadow turned out to be Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.'s final credit as a producer though he had acted in this capacity several times in the past, serving as executive producer on such films as Ben Hecht and Lee Garmes' Angels Over Broadway (1940) and Max Ophuls' The Exile (1947). In Chase a Crooked Shadow, Fairbanks makes a rare cameo appearance as himself at the end, urging audiences not to reveal the "surprise" ending of the film. Michael Anderson, the director of Chase a Crooked Shadow, is best known for such big budget commercial entertainments as Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Operation Crossbow (1965) and Logan's Run (1976).
Producers: Thomas Clyde, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Director: Michael Anderson
Screenplay: David Osborn, Charles Sinclair
Cinematography: Erwin Hillier
Art Direction: Paul Sheriff
Music: Matyas Seiber
Film Editing: Gordon Pilkington
Cast: Richard Todd (Ward Prescott), Anne Baxter (Kimberley Prescott), Herbert Lom (Police Commissar Vargas), Alexander Knox (Chandler Brisson), Faith Brook (Elaine Whitman), Alan Tilvern (Carlos), Thelma d'Aguilar (Maria), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Himself - Epilogue, uncredited).
by Jeff Stafford
In Camera: An Autobiography Continued by Richard Todd (Hutchinson)