Man in the Shadow, released in 1957 is a bit of an odd duck because when you watch this movie, you are overcome with a strange feeling and you realize that it gives off a B movie vibe, even though it features an A level cast. Starring Orson Welles and Jeff Chandler, the film details the exploits of a small town sheriff who needs to investigate a murder yet is thwarted at every turn by the owner of the ranch where it took place. It is a fairly standard little western crime-thriller made all the better by the players in it, specifically Orson Welles. Without Welles, the picture might very well have been denigrated to B film status, but Welles is a draw and thus makes this picture bigger than it might have been otherwise.
As stated, the film was very commonplace featuring a storyline that has been seen many times in western films, that of the big, bad ranch owner creating his own law with the townsfolk falling in line because he keeps the economy and the town alive. What usually happens is the hero of the film, whether Glenn Ford or John Wayne or whoever, rallies the people behind him after something bad has happened and/or heads out alone to take care of the problem. In this case it is Jeff Chandler who turns in a great performance as the embattled sheriff who can find no support no matter where he turns. With everyone scared of what will happen should they cross Virgil Renchler, the character portrayed by Welles, Sheriff Sadler is put through hell until he can no longer take it and aims to do something about it whatever the cost. Chandler, a film veteran by this point, usually turned in a good performance and it was nice to see that it was no different here. Welles, for what little he was actually in the picture, played a version of a character he would often play, that of the ornery, aging figurehead which really made you think about whether he was acting just as another version of a character or a version of himself.
One of the main problems with having Orson Welles in a picture, and it does not matter who stars opposite him, is the risk of being overshadowed by the man. He was a polarising figure in Hollywood and always seemed larger than life. When you see him in a film, your eyes are immediately drawn to him and it essentially remains so for the length of the film no matter what it is. Other than Welles and Chandler, the film would star Colleen Miller as Renchler’s daughter Skippy, Ben Alexander, Barabara Lawrence, John Larch as the scummy Yates and James Gleasonas. Jack Arnold, the director of the movie, did a great job of bringing the best out of everyone, but when you have the fortune, or misfortune, of starring with Welles, you simply do your best and hope someone notices.
Putting the cast aside, the film was beautifully shot and Gene L. Coon who was responsible for the script of this movie did some fine work though it was said that Welles had a hand in rewriting much of it. Even so, it would have been great to see just a little more originality from it, not just a strengthening of the dialogue. In the end, the picture was quite enjoyable with some great drama, a little action, suspense and revenge thrown in for good measure. Man in the Shadow may not be the best picture that Welles has ever starred in, or even Chandler, but it is a strong one and well worth your time.