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Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report: "Chase A Crooked Shadow" (Anderson, 1958)

What an interesting puzzle the directorial career of Michael Anderson makes. In 1955 he directs The Dam Busters, one of the most exacting...

What an interesting puzzle the directorial career of Michael Anderson makes. In 1955 he directs The Dam Busters, one of the most exacting and exciting films about World War II ever made up to that point in time. In 1956 he directs an adaptation of Orwell's 1984 that, for better or worse, remains the definitive screen version of that, as it turns out, ever-mutable tome. And in 1957 he directs...Around The World In 80 Days. Hmm, let's hand that one over to Andrew Sarris: "That Michael Anderson was also the director of the much-applauded Around The World In 80 Days does not deserve even the dignity of a footnote."

It is true. Days is an abomination, and The Notebook's readers will accept that verdict without even thinking to protest, "But it won five Oscars!" For this writer, Days' painfulness stems from the fact that one of its credited screenwriters would eventually become a husband of Barbara Steele, and that another would forever and a day be...S.J. Perelman, a writer with no quite so other a blot on his escuetchon. And yes, both those guys won Oscars for their contributions to that abominable film.

Weird. But Days isn't why we're here. We're here on account of a film Anderson directed a mere two years later, a seemingly low-budget thriller called Chase A Crooked Shadow. And a nifty, brisk piece of work it is, too. It begins with a character played by Richard Todd (an Anderson regular who alsoe figured prominently in The Dam Busters) going over the case of South African diamond heiress Kimberley Prescott, who's about to repair to a villa near Barcelona to rest up after a substantive breakdown. No sooner has she crawled in from an evening of serious drinking than Todd slithers in, claiming to be Kimberley's brother...who, as Kimberley has it, died quite some time before, in an auto crash.

One is kind of staggered by the nerve of Todd's character, the way he horns in on Kimberley's existence, sending off her staff and introducing a sinister "friend," Mrs. Whitman, and a new butler, Carlos, into the life of the villa. So brisk are his machinations that in no time the viewer is not caring altogether too much about Herbert Lom's laughable miscasting as a Bercelonan police chief. Anne Baxter, not quite as fresh as she was in I Confess or All About Eve, is entirely convincing as Kimerley, the one-time poor little rich girl who's been both damaged and tempered by her years climbing out of the darkside. Todd is almost vehemently unreadable as the man impersonating...or is he?...her brother, and his peculiarly mutable responses to her, behavior which must have at least been suggested by the script written by David O. Osborn and Charles Sinclair, provide the picture with frissons that were likely rather uncommon at the time.

Indeed, at its heights, the picture calls to mind Hitchcock's Rebecca and Cukor's Gaslight, while pushing the incest dread/expectation buttons of Lewis Allen's 1944 The Uninvited. And the climax is sufficiently tense to suggest North by Northwest writ small. Unfortunately, the twisty script overplays its hand one too many times, defying genre conventions in a way similar to (albeit less harrowing than) Hong-jin Na's 2008 The Chaser. That being the case, Anderson and company do deserve some credit for defying genre conventions at a time when it was less than fashionable to do so.

The picture gets a respectable transfer on an extras-free Region 2 PAL disc from the UK firm Optimum.

Mich
This whole site stinks. I cannot choose the film I want to see. The connection to Facebook and Twitter does not please me. I read in a local newspaper (paid-for) about this service about “art house-film for free” – I want to resee the Clockwork Orange. But no way. How do I get out or delete all my personal data? yours, Mich

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