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December 08, 2015

The Crooked Way

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Robert Florey - 1949
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

Sonny Tufts?

Believe it! Only a year older than John Payne, there should be no problem with Tufts as the long-time former friend who grew up with Payne. Maybe it was the effects of reported alcoholism, but Tufts does look at least ten years older, with his creased face, with the black and white cinematography making his blond hair appear prematurely white. The voice is as smooth as sandpaper. As the gangster, Vince Alexander, Tufts is eminently effective here, making life miserable for those he sees as standing in his way.

John Payne plays a former G.I., Eddie Rice, released from a military hospital. Shrapnel in the skull has caused amnesia, and with the doctors seeing no cure for the memory loss, Rice is released, headed to Los Angeles, his last known address. In Los Angeles, Rice quickly finds out that he's been known as Eddie Riccardi, a criminal associated with Vince Alexander. The more that is uncovered about Eddie Riccardi, the more Eddie Rice learns the hard way that ignorance is bliss.

As a genre exercise, The Crooked Way is an almost perfect example of Film Noir. The central character is a loner, dislocated from his past, alone in a big, imposing, city. The main nemeses is a very organized man, shielded by wealth, a legitimate business to cover the illegal activities, and if needed, hired muscle if force is needed. The exception may be in Ellen Drew's character of Nina Martin. Nina is not quite the femme fatale, only putting Eddie's life in danger somewhat reluctantly, based on her past relationship, one that Eddie does not remember.

Visually, this is the stuff that Film Noir dreams are made of. There are more than enough visual flourishes here. Sharing the frame are extreme close-ups in the foreground, with lesser characters standing in the back. There are shadowy people in a shadowy world. A nice touch includes the oversized shadow of the railing leading up to Eddie's hotel room. Hunted down by Tufts, Payne and Drew are seen as silhouettes in a darkened house. At a later point, Robert Florey cuts between close-ups of Drew, her face illuminated, and Payne, his face in the dark, a shadow of himself, unlit save for faint backlight providing an outline.

From Thomas Pryor's review in the New York Times: "The Crooked Way" races along as a melodrama should and it has more than enough plot to keep its hard-working actors going from one dangerous situation to another. But there is so much pointless brutality in it that one may seriously question whether the movie people are wise to go on with the making of such pictures. The human family may not be perfect, but why subject it to so-called entertainment that is only fit for savage beasts.

Be that as it may, contemporary viewers may well get a bit of a jolt when after being beaten senseless by a trio of gangsters, Payne is tossed down the stairway of a fire escape. As an example of classic Film Noir, that's entertainment.

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Posted by peter at December 8, 2015 04:23 AM