Is there anything in this world, today’s world especially, more enticing than the chance to get away from it all? Break free of the various pitfalls of everyday society and escape to a place surrounded by tranquility, solace and ultimate peace? Doubtless many people would jump at the chance to do just that, and I’m sure each one of them has a long list of locales in mind. For so many of us for whom such a notion firmly remains a fantasy, as usual there’s always the movies.
While a great many films have always been so remarkable at showcasing the most lavish and exotic locales in the world, they have also been adept at placing the characters in those magical settings in situations of excitement and oftentimes great suspense. This week’s Archivist spotlights two such titles, 1958’s Chase a Crooked Shadow and 1967’s Eye of the Devil, which took their characters, placed them in the arms of beautiful surroundings, and made them fear for their lives.
Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958)
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. produced this stylish and criminally underrated late-50s thriller starring Michael Wilding and Anne Baxter, which was set smack dab in a villa located in the sun-drenched city of Barcelona. Late one night after heiress Kimberly Prescott (Baxter) has said goodbye to some friends, she notices a man lurking in the shadows. The man (Richard Todd) claims to be Kimberly’s brother Ward, who is thought to have died the year before. Immediately proclaiming him to be an imposter, Kimberly calls the police. When Ward produces both a driver’s license and a passport which prove he is who he claims to be, everyone seems convinced. Not Kimberly, however, who proceeds to find herself in a living nightmare as this man claiming to be her late brother will not leave.
Chase a Crooked Shadow has to be one of the most deliriously suspenseful films to ever come out of the era. Every single plot move is like a chess piece that never gives the audience time to rest. Who would want to? Watching Kimberly go mad trying to prove that the stranger who has invaded her home and her life is not who everyone, especially him, claims to be, is the definition of thrilling. The heat is turned up even more when Kimberly is convinced that this man, along with the “friends” he’s brought along, are set on driving her insane before getting rid of her altogether. The addition of a suicide, a mysterious car accident, and a collection of missing diamonds add a great deal of spice and zest to the experience. Chase a Crooked Shadow also does right by its actors, giving both Baxter and Todd a pair of great roles which suit their talents beautifully. Baxter in particular manages to wondrously sink further and further into the depths of madness before our very eyes, proving to be the rapidly pulsating heart of the entire tension-filled ride.
Eye of the Devil (1967)
In Eye of the Devil, Deborah Kerr and David Niven star as Catherine and Philippe de Montfaucon, a happily-married wealthy Paris couple with two small children. When a distressing message arrives one night during a party from Philippe’s family estate in the French countryside, he announces that he must leave immediately. It appears that the vineyards Philippe’s family owns have gone dry, and he is the only one who can help. Though Philippe tells Catherine he must go alone, she decides she misses him and joins him with the children a few days later. When she arrives, she encounters one suspicious character after another in the family chateau, all of whom she suspects are part of a pagan cult with a sinister plan and Philippe at the center.
Directed by the great J. Lee Thompson, Eye of the Devil became more notorious for its casting elements rather that its plot. For starters, there was the casting of the film’s leading lady. Kim Novak was originally cast in Kerr’s role and had managed to finish the majority of her scenes when a horse-riding accident kept her from completing the film. Eye of the Devil has also become famous for containing the big-screen debut of Sharon Tate, who is both enticing and haunting as a mysterious young cult member appearing throughout the grounds. Beyond having a fair amount of fun at seeing two such accomplished dramatic actors as Kerr and Niven star in a late ’60s horror film, Eye of the Devil stands up as a worthy exercise in horror. Watching Catherine fear for her and her children’s lives as Philippe begins to slip away at the hands of the evil worshipers that haunt the chateau is full of the right kind of malice fans of these sort of films crave. The scene in the woods where Catherine suddenly finds herself lost and surrounded by a collection of mysterious figures in black robes with no faces remains Eye of the Devil’s most standout moment, and the film’s ending refuses to play it safe by signing off on an appropriately horrific note.