Chase A Crooked Shadow, 1958

Great premise for a mystery. The isolated, exotic locale builds atmosphere, the plot is set in motion immediately, and both Anne Baxter as Kimberley and Richard Todd as her ‘brother’ Ward give strong, complimentary performances. The slick way that Ward insinuates himself into Kimberley’s life is convincingly creepy. As others have said, he and his partner Elaine (Faith Brook) ‘gaslight’ Kimberley; she can’t successfully expose Ward, as she’s suspected of not being stable, so she steadily loses credibility.

Her dilemma becomes so insidious that she endangers herself. When she dares Ward to race on the twisty coastal road; she counts on exposing him–as only the ‘real’ Ward could drive so fast. Unfortunately, if she’s too right, she’ll probably fly off a cliff with him. So, luckily I guess, she’s wrong; but she can’t help accusing him of trying to frighten her. Which only makes him a better imposter. The diamond issue is the obvious key to the false identity plot. Ward and Elaine coerce her into basically giving up the diamonds, but that doesn’t mean she gets rid of her antagonists.

Things only get more complicated from them on. She tells the policeman Vargas (Herbert Lom) about her brother’s death, and almost, but not quite implicates herself. That, and her confession about the diamonds gets Vargas on her side for a bit. But, the actual denouement reveals both that ‘Ward’ is an imposter and that she did in fact kill her brother. Those revelations at least prevent the initial set-up from undercutting the entire plot–from the first scene we see that ‘Ward’ and Elaine are targeting Kimberley.

That still leaves a few loose ends. For one thing, Bridson (Alexander Knox), is taken-in by ‘Ward’ just as Vargas is, but why isn’t he surprised that nothing’ turns out as it seems? More importantly, why isn’t Vargas let in on the whole undercover plot? It would make sense for him to not show his hand to Kimberley, but the South African police would tip him off from the outset. That’s just how it’s done. For one thing, if the ‘gaslighting’ goes on too long, Kimberley might end up in an asylum, basically out of the reach of prosecutors. What’s worse is that ‘Ward’ and Elaine are about to execute Kimberley; only Vargas’s timely arrival closes the door on that. It would be somewhat counterproductive for an undercover team to bring a corpse to justice.

Chase A Crooked Shadow (a great title) is pretty entertaining. With the exception of Knox, who doesn’t have much to do as the favored uncle, the principal characters swarm around each other with plausible and interlocking motivations. As others have said, the movie is a bit talky and stagey, especially the ending. And the explanations don’t altogether account for the characters’ actions. Worth a look anyway. 7/10.

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