Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Man in the Shadow (1957) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

MAN IN THE SHADOW (1957) is a very good melding of crime drama and social commentary starring Jeff Chandler and Orson Welles. It was very recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

The movie begins with an opening credits sequence typical of Universal Pictures in this era, introducing all of the main cast members onscreen. The film has a terrific black and white CinemaScope look which I found very appealing.

Chandler plays Ben Sadler, the recently elected sheriff of a small California town. When a migrant farm worker (Martin Garralaga) timidly arrives at the sheriff's office to report the murder of one of his coworkers at the vast Golden Empire Ranch, Ben's racist deputy (Ben Alexander) could care less. The sheriff, however, brushes off the deputy, saying he's paid to take claims seriously and enforce the law, and he heads to the Golden Empire to investigate.

The atmosphere at the Golden Empire is unfriendly, to say the least. Ranch owner Virgil Renchler (Welles) tells Sadler to mind his own business, and foreman Ed Yates (John Larch) seems threatening. There's also a guard dog who's downright frightening! Sadler gets nowhere with his questions but is increasingly concerned by the evasiveness of Renchler and his men, who also include Chet (Leo Gordon).

Renchler's daughter Skippy (Colleen Miller of FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER and PLAYGIRL) thinks something's amiss, especially when her father locks her in her room. She sneaks out of the house and into town, where she tells the sheriff about hearing screaming the night before.

The townspeople (including Paul Fix and William Schallert) pressure the sheriff to back down, fearful of what will happen to the local economy if the ranch takes all its business elsewhere. Sadler's wife (Barbara Lawrence), unnerved by threats, also asks her husband why he doesn't just listen to their neighbors, who want him to drop the matter.

After multiple attempts on his life while the circumstantial evidence grows, the sheriff heads back to the ranch. Only one townsman (Royal Dano) is brave enough to accompany him...

I really enjoyed this film, especially its attractive widescreen cinematography and the cast. Although the movie is in black and white, the opening with Colleen Miller looking out of her window rather called to mind the distinctive opening credits sequence of the previous year's colorful Douglas Sirk film for the same studio, WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956).

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray shows off the black and white cinematography of Arthur E. Arling to good effect. While the movie seems to have been fairly low budget, with a minimum number of sets, the town depicted feels authentic, and the film makes good use of Conejo Valley locations. Conejo Valley is the area around Thousand Oaks and Moorpark where the McCrea Ranch is located; the ranch is part of the Conejo Recreation and Parks District.

I found Chandler extremely compelling as he's increasingly isolated wrestling with a tough problem; he manages to come across as an "ordinary guy," yet at the same time, he's special enough that the viewer watches his every move.

Welles is properly creepy as the rancher willing to shrug off a murder or two...or three or four...and Gordon and Larch are evil personified. Incidentally, I couldn't get over how different Welles looked from the following year's TOUCH OF EVIL (1958); he's not thin in this, but the look is remarkably changed given that the films were released just a year apart.

MAN IN THE SHADOW isn't a perfect film; for instance, I'm an advocate for short movies, but at 80 minutes the film needed more character development, especially for the women's roles.

Miller is as appealing as always, but her relationship with her father isn't fleshed out quite enough. That said, having seen her in person at the 2019 Noir City Film Festival, it was a treat to see another of her films.

The always-excellent Lawrence is completely wasted with just two scenes as Sadler's wife. I would have liked to know more about their relationship, especially given her arguing for job security and the opinions of the townspeople over his commitment to equal justice under the law. Their discussion on that subject is interrupted, and that's the last we see of her.

What did make it into the film, however, is quite good, and at times even unnerving, as Chandler is abandoned, HIGH NOON (1952) style, by those he's sworn to protect and defend. It ultimately builds to a satisfying ending.

MAN IN THE SHADOW was written by Gene L. Coon and directed by Jack Arnold, who directed Chandler in another good crime drama, THE TATTERED DRESS (1957), released the same year. Arnold also directed the outstanding Audie Murphy Western NO NAME ON THE BULLET (1959) and several classics of the sci-fi genre.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes a commentary track by Troy Howarth and the movie trailer, plus a trailer gallery for seven additional films available from Kino Lorber.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger mel said...

You're not going to believe this, Laura. A couple or three hours ago, when I saw that it had been released on BluRay, not knowing anything about this movie (as you know, like you I'm a Jeff Chandler fan), I came straight to your blog to see whether you had written a review of it so that I could get some info. Not a word.

I've come back now - LMM is on my list of daily to-visit blogs - and when I got to it I was amazed and surprised to see it right on top of the page! What a coincidence.

Now I'm going to read the review itself...

12:28 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Hi Laura! I have the DVD of this and am reminded by your review that a re-watch should be on the cards. Yet another fine 80-minute film from U.I. whose quality possibly defies its budgetary limits. Well worth getting.

Jeff Chandler is another of those actors I enjoy more and more with each film. He was very adept at playing an ordinary Joe who rises to the occasion as needed.

3:53 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Mel, I hope you see this comment. With the world going crazy, it's no wonder I haven't received your package yet or I would have let you know. Just wanted to say how much I appreciate the effort. I hope at some time it'll get through. :)

7:46 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Mel, that is a fantastic coincidence, I love that! Thank you so much for sharing. If you see the movie I'd love to know your thoughts on it. And thank you for your very loyal readership!

I so agree about Jeff Chandler, Jerry. I think I enjoy him more with each movie I watch (or rewatch). A very interesting actor. Glad to have your endorsement of this film added to mine!

Hope you are doing well, Margot!

Thank you all so much for reading and taking the time to comment.

Best wishes,

1:05 PM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

So far so good, Laura. :)

1:33 PM  

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