Sheriff Ben Sadler (Jeff Chandler) is the lawman in charge of a typically quiet town in the American west. When the movie begins, he opens up the town jail to release a local drunk. Serious crime is not a regular problem, and his job is generally on the more relaxed side of things, at least as far as law enforcement goes. This changes when an older Mexican man named Jesus Cisneros (Martin Garralaga) arrives to tell him about how he witnessed a friend of his, Juan Martin (Joe Schneider), being murdered by a pair of ranch hands, Ed Yates (John Larch) and Chet Huneker (Leo Gordon), at a farm not too far away. This ranch, where the man worked as a bracero, is owned and operated by Virgil Renchler (Orson Welles), a big, booming man of strong social standing in the community and the ranch itself plays a huge role in the town's economic stability.
Sadler now finds himself in a pretty serious dilemma. Should he go after Renchler and his operation, he risks essentially shutting down the town, but he also knows it is his duty to see that justice is served. He confronts Renchler about the incident but gets nothing from the arrogant man, Renchler simply dismissing all of the sheriff's concerns. This doesn't have the desired effect, and in fact, it gets Sadler's fur up a bit. As Sadler continues to investigate, it isn't long before Renchler's influence lands the lawman in some dicey predicaments. After all, the town essentially depends on the ranch and Renchler knows it. His daughter Skippy (Colleen Miller), who seems to know the truth about what really happened, is willing to cooperate as are select members of the town's put upon immigrant population.
Directed by Jack Arnold in 1957 (and set in the era in which it was shot), Man In The Shadow is an interesting message movie wrapped in western trappings with elements of vintage noir thrillers thrown into the mix. The end result is a bit of a genre mashup in that it is set in the old west but feels, at times, more like a dramatic thriller than a cowboy picture. Still, it works quite effectively thanks to a strong script, smart directorial choices and some solid acting. The scope cinematography is also pretty strong, and at times quite innovative. Juan's murder is effectively staged in this regard, his death scene making interesting use of mirrors, and the night time exteriors have a nice, shadowy look to them.
The performances are solid, occasionally excellent. Schneider and Garralaga are both good here, sympathetic in their roles. Larch and Gordon play the tough guy ranch hands well, bringing their slimy characters to life with the right amount of menace. Colleen Miller does fine work as Renchler's daughter and handles the material thrown at her quite well. However, the real stars, and this will come as a surprise to absolutely nobody, are Chandler and Welles. Chandler plays the noble, but trepidatious cop, with a believable sense of humanity. He doesn't know, at first, how far he should push this and when he starts wrestling with his own personal moral code, we feel for him. Welles is the real powerhouse of the film, and very well-cast as the unscrupulous business tycoon more than happy to use his financial advantages to manipulate the town and its population to suit his whims. He plays this part with all the power and authority you'd expect from an actor of his stature, and he uses his inimitable voice and screen presence to craft a remarkably despicable character.
The film isn't perfect. The script doesn't provide as much character development as it probably should have, at times we feel that both Sadler and Renchler are underwritten even if the actors bringing them to life are doing fine work. There are, without heading into spoiler territory, also elements in the last half of the movie that feel more than a little predictable. Despite this, however, Man In The Shadow remains a movie worth seeing, underrated even, thanks to Arnold's efficient direction and the quality of the performances.
The Man In The Shadow debuts on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber taking up just over 25GBs of space on the 50GB disc and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 2.35.1 widescreen. The transfer on this release is quite strong, showing excellent detail pretty much throughout the duration of the picture. The image is nice and clean, retaining the film grain you'd expect and hope to see but showing very little print damage at all. There's good depth and texture throughout and the picture shows no problems with noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts. We also get nice, deep blacks and very good contrast here. All in all, the picture quality is quite strong.
The 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, in the film's original English language, sounds fine. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion, the track is clean and the score has a bit of appreciable depth to it. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.
Troy Howarth provides an audio commentary that serves as the disc's main supplement. It covers all the bases and then some, offering up biographical details on the cast and crew with a heavy focus on Welles and to a lesser extent Chandler. He talks up the themes that the picture deals with, pays attention to the impressive widescreen photography and makes some interesting observations about how this does and does not toy with genre conventions to a certain degree. There's also quite a bit of discussion about director Jack Arnold's life and times as well. It's well-researched and delivered in Howarth's typically amiable style.
Rounding out the extras on the disc is a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Kino Lorber properties, menus and chapter selection.
The Man In The Shadow is an atypical western in a lot of ways but it's a very well-made B-picture that benefits immensely from the presence of Chandler and Welles. Kino's Blu-ray release is a good one, providing this solid slice of entertainment in very nice shape and with an enjoyable commentary track as its main extra features. Recommended.