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Shadowed (1946)

A hole-in-one in a solo golf outing by small businessman Fred Johnson (Lloyd Corrigan) inadvertently lands him in the middle of a murder and a counterfeiting conspiracy in Shadowed (1946), a swift crime thriller produced by the B-movie unit of Columbia Pictures. Fred wanders off the green and into a crime scene becoming a witness intimidated into silence by gangsters who track him down and threaten his family, and also suspected by the police, who put him under surveillance as his behavior becomes more suspicious.

Where the B-movies of the Poverty Row studios often showed their threadbare budgets, Columbia put the studio resources at the disposal of their programmers, from standing sets and locations to costumes and technical support. They reliably turned out entertaining and often good-looking low-budget genre pictures and second features for double bills and, while they utilized the talents of former stars and filmmakers past their glory days, they also used the productions to nurture new talent.

Anita Louise, once the glamorous star of such glossy Warner Bros. costume dramas as Madame Du Barry (1934), where she played Marie Antoinette, A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) and The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936), receives top billing in this 70-minute picture and brings a touch of glamour and star power to the film. But her role as Fred's eldest daughter doesn't give her much to do and she spends the film fretting over her nervous father and playing stand-in mother for her younger sister. Helen Koford, a former juvenile actress who had small roles in Gaslight (1944) and Son of Lassie (1945), was 16 when she played the excitable little sister whose crime-obsessed boyfriend fills her head with ideas of "femme fatales" and "crime passionnel." Koford would soon change her name to Terry Moore and star in the cult classic Mighty Joe Young (1949) and Come Back, Little Sheba (1952), where she earned an Academy Award nomination for her supporting performance.

Shadowed marks the second feature for John Sturges, a young director who had apprenticed as an editor before landing in the director's chair making military training films during World War II. The film was produced in 1946 (under the working title The Gloved Hand), as Hollywood crime movies took on increasingly cynical attitudes and a style defined by shadows, extreme angles and characters plunged into darkness. There's little of that existential cynicism in this breezy mix of humor and suspense but Sturges brings some noir visual style to the production. In the opening scenes, as Fred comes across a corpse and overhears the murderers conspiring, the camera shoots from above and through slats of a railroad bridge, dramatizing the precarious situation while effectively hiding the faces of the killers, seen only as feet and hands. As the criminals and the cops both circle the hapless witness, the scenes shift to night and the lighting casts shadows across the sets. All in a film shot on a two-week schedule and with a low budget. Moore, interviewed years later by Sturges biographer Glenn Lovell, recalled that "we did nearly everything in one take," but also remembered Sturges as "rough and tumble, but eloquent, a real gentleman."

Sturges soon graduated from B-pictures and went on to make some excellent crime thrillers - among them Mystery Street (1950) with Ricardo Montalban and Jeopardy (1953) with Barbara Stanwyck, but he found his greatest success with such iconic Westerns as Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) and The Magnificent Seven (1960). He also directed the muscular all-star action epic The Great Escape (1963). That B-movie apprenticeship sure paid off for Sturges.

Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges, Glenn Lovvell. University of Wisconsin Press, 2008.
AFI Catalog of Feature Films

By Sean Axmaker

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