MAN IN THE SHADOW (aka: PAY THE DEVIL)
(director: Jack Arnold; screenwriter: Gene L. Coon; cinematographer: Arthur E. Arling; editor: Edward A. Curtiss; 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), Leo Gordon (Chet Huneker), Martin Garralaga (Jesus Cisneros), Juan Martin (Joe Schneider), Mario Siletti (Tony Santoro, the barber), Paul Fix (Herb Parker) Royal Dano (Aiken Clay), Forrest Lewis (Jake Kelley, the coroner), Mort Mills (Golden Empire Ranch Gateman), Harry Harvey (Dr. Creighton); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Albert Zugsmith; Universal-International; 1957-UK/USA)
“A low-rent version of Touch of Evil.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Overwrought modern day Western set in the small-town of Spurline in rural Texas. It plays as a low-rent version of Touch of Evil, Orson Welles’ next film under producer Albert Zugsmith. The producer and Welles got along just fine, as the boss allowed the actor to rewrite the script–which greatly improved things for director Jack Arnold. It was written by Gene Coon (noted for his work on TV’s Star Trek series).
Welles in his first Western (a decade later in Spain he shot “Long Live The Revolution”) dominates the screen with his vile characterization of the wealthiest cattle baron in Texas, who is above the law operating the Golden Empire ranch and employing around 500 Mexican laborers. Ben Sadler (Jeff Chandler) is the newly-elected virtuous sheriff, a local boy who made good. When Mexican ranch hand Jesus Cisneros reports he witnessed the beating to death of fellow ranch hand, the “bracero,” Juan Martin, by Ed Yates (John Larch) and Chet Huneker (Leo Gordon) in the Golden Empire ranch’s tool shed with their fists and deadly blows with a pickax handle, the sheriff goes out to the hostile big-spread ranch (larger than the size of many European countries) and is met by a sneering gatekeeper, a ferocious German Shepherd guard dog, the sneers of foreman Yates and the threats by ranch owner Virgil Renchler (Orson Welles) that he can kiss his job goodbye if he continues his investigation. The ruffled but not intimidated sheriff continues the investigation, even after Chet claims he killed the drunken Juan when he ran in front of his vehicle. The sheriff refuses to drop the case even when the town’s leading citizens and the locals urge him to because they need Renchler for the town to survive economically. The morally upright sheriff continues his investigation even after Renchler’s men threaten his nervous wife Helen over the phone, loosen the tire lugs on his car causing him considerable injury in a spill, his star witness Cisneros is murdered and Renchler’s thugs drag him through the town square while he has his hands tied to a long rope on the back of their pick-up. Renchler’s unhappily coddled but independent-minded daughter Skippy (Colleen Miller) tells the sheriff that she believes her father had Juan beaten because they developed an innocent friendly relationship, which she encouraged because she was lonely and her father didn’t approve of any of the boys in town.
The third act has Ben going out to the ranch with Aiken Clay, the rancher who took Cisneros in when he went into hiding, to arrest Renchler and his henchmen, and when attacked the decent folks in town get some guts and join the sheriff in restoring law-and-order. That includes the drunken low-life deputy Ab Begley (Ben Alexander), who gave Renchler’s goons the address of where Cisneros was hiding and now has second thoughts about that. Hardly convincing, but fun to watch Welles chew the scenery as an American fascist–spitting his lines out with a mixture of fiery venom and cow dung.
REVIEWED ON 6/20/2005 GRADE: B-