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In 1957 Orson Welles couldn't direct traffic in Hollywood. No studio would hire him to helm a picture and he had been forced to seek out financial backers in Europe for his previous film, Mr. Arkadin (a.k.a. Confidential Report, 1955). On the other hand, he had plenty of offers to act in movies which were usually inferior to his talents. One of the exceptions is a rarely seen contemporary Western with film noir shadings entitled Man in the Shadow (1957) made just after Welles had appeared in an episode of I Love Lucy and a supporting role in Moby Dick (1956) for director John Huston.
Directed by Jack Arnold, Man in the Shadow is a barely disguised allegory of Fascism and corruption on the range that focuses on an earnest sheriff investigating the death of a Mexican laborer who was beaten to death. The trail of evidence leads to the sprawling ranch of Virgil Renchler (Orson Welles), an all-powerful land baron whose hold over the local citizenry creates an insurmountable obstacle in the sheriff's search for the murderer.
In Orson Welles's prolific but frustrated career, Man in the Shadow is significant for two reasons, the first being the fact that it's the ONLY Western Welles ever made. But the more important reason is that the film allowed him to work closely with the producer, Albert Zugsmith, who would give him his first Hollywood directorial assignment in years, Touch of Evil (1958).
In Kings of the Bs, edited by Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn, Zugsmith recalled the casting of Man in the Shadow: "Jeff Chandler played the sheriff, and we had a new girl under contract, Colleen Miller, a beautiful girl, as the female lead. We were trying to cast the heavy, the girl's father, the rich rancher who oppresses the Mexicans, and so forth. We're pretty much sold on Robert Middleton who did such a great job for me before [in Douglas Sirk's The Tarnished Angels, 1958]. So I got a call from the William Morris office. Evidently they knew the part was open, and Jack Baur asked me, "How would you like Orson Welles to play the heavy?" "You're kidding," I said. He had been out of this country for some time. He was back, he needed $60,000 very badly for taxes, and he'd play the heavy. "Has he read the script?" I said. "I don't think so. But he's gotta pay his taxes, or he'll be in big trouble."
Welles had just experienced another career disappointment when he agreed to star in Man in the Shadow (the working title was Pay the Devil). He had been negotiating with MGM to direct Charles Lederer's screenplay for Tip on a Dead Jockey (1957), based on Irwin Shaw's novel, but the deal fell through. Instead the project went to Richard Thorpe (who would later direct Welles in The Tartars, 1961). Welles took the news in stride, however, and showed up on the set of Man in the Shadow full of enthusiasm - and with a lot of suggestions. In fact, he was carrying a handful of pages and announced to the cast and crew, "You'll be interested to see the changes for today!" A conference with Zugsmith was immediately scheduled and the producer quickly realized that Welles's script changes were indeed an improvement. Of course, this was just the beginning of a daily rewrite ritual that would completely unnerve the other actors.
Zugsmith realized he'd have a mutiny on his hands if he didn't intervene so he took Welles aside and told him that his changes were a "Great improvement. Of course, you'd be doing the actors and myself a great favor if we could get these rewrites that obviously you're going to do, at least on your own scenes, prior to the day of shooting, because it's quite a burden on some of these actors, who aren't quite as experienced as you are to learn the new scenes" (from Kings of the Bs). Welles agreed and together the two of them would retire to Zugsmith's bungalow at the end of each day's shooting to make the necessary script changes for upcoming scenes. The collaboration was a good one and Zugsmith had no further problems with Welles although there was one earlier incident that occurred. Welles requested his own makeup man for personal reasons. His real nose is never shown in a film, he claimed, because it's so "ridiculous looking." Needless to say, the request was granted.
At the end of shooting, Zugsmith said Welles approached him and stated, "I would like to direct a picture for you." I said, ""There's nothing I'd like better, Orson." He said, "Have you got anything I can direct?" In those days I had a shelf full of scripts in back of my desk and I said, "You can have any one you want." He said, "Which is the worst one?" I said, "Right here," and pulled out a script Paul Monash had written from a novel in four weeks on a flat deal called Badge of Evil. I threw it over to Orson, and he said, "Can I have two weeks to write it? " I said, "You can have it" (from Kings of the Bs).
Welles's memory of the deal that led to Touch of Evil is somewhat different. In This is Orson Welles by Peter Bogdanovich, Welles said, "I had just acted in the Jeff Chandler Western for Universal...and they sent me another script - a very bad one that took place in San Diego, with a crooked detective in it. And they said, "Do you want to play it?" I said, "Maybe," and I was still wondering whether I could afford not to make it when they called up Chuck Heston and said, "Here's a script - we'd like you to read it. We have Welles." And he misunderstood them and said, "Well, any picture that Welles directs, I'll make." So they got back on the phone quick and said to me, "Do you want to direct it?" And I said, "Yes, if I can rewrite it." Well, they said they'd let me do that if I wouldn't get paid as a director or writer - just my original salary as an actor. So I had about three and a half weeks to go before it began, and I locked myself up with four secretaries and wrote an entirely new story and script."
Looking back on his career, Zugsmith regretted that he didn't have the opportunity to work with Welles again after Man in the Shadow and Touch of Evil, which were among the producer's personal favorites. Instead, Zugsmith went into the lucrative field of exploitation films, producing such camp classics as High School Confidential (1958), Sex Kittens Go to College (1960) and The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960) which he co-directed with the film's star - Mickey Rooney!! But Zugsmith would forever praise Welles: "He's a genius. Great man. Great talent...Many of the talents that I have helped develop or worked with have suffered by not continuing with me. And I have suffered by not continuing with them."
Producer: Albert Zugsmith
Director: Jack Arnold
Screenplay: Gene L. Coon
Cinematography: Arthur E. Arling
Film Editing: Edward Curtiss
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen, Alfred Sweeney
Music: Hans J. Salter, Herman Stein
Cast: Jeff Chandler (Ben Sadler), Orson Welles (Virgil Renchler), Colleen Miller (Skippy Renchler), Ben Alexander (Ab Begley), Barbara Lawrence (Helen Sadler), John Larch (Ed Yates).
by Jeff Stafford