Tuesday, April 22, 2014

'The Crooked Way' Was Routine Film Noir

I wouldn't call myself an expert in the film noir genre, but, if someone asked me to recommend a movie from that genre, there are several I could choose.

Unless that person needed a title that could serve as a source for some sort of article or term paper, though, I doubt that I would recommend "The Crooked Way," which premiered 65 years ago today.

The plot of "The Crooked Way" was intriguing. A war hero (John Payne) returned to America after suffering a head injury that left him with permanent amnesia (no other details were offered; I guess it was one of those scriptwriter devices, and a cliched one at that, even in 1949). There were many things he didn't know or remember, one of which was that, before he went to war, he had been a violent criminal.

Armed with only the knowledge that he enlisted in Los Angeles, he returned to the area hoping to find someone who could tell him who he was before the war. Almost immediately, he encountered people who had known him before he enlisted — and would be happy to see him dead.

Even with amnesia, Payne's character was able to put two and two together. I mean, he lost his memory, not his intelligence.

He ran across his former wife (Ellen Drew) and all sorts of characters from his previous life. She had a lot of difficulty believing that he had lost his memory, and she wasn't too keen on helping him at first.

I suppose I thought that Drew was the lone bright spot in the cast. Everyone else seemed wooden to me, even Payne, who was the top–billed performer, but no one seemed capable of any real passion. They never sounded as if they were speaking naturally. They never appeared to be acting naturally.

But I had to acknowledge that the cast was only as good as its material, and the story's flow was pretty uneven.

As I say, it is an intriguing idea. I just didn't think the script lived up to the potential.

Having said that, though, there were a couple of things about the movie that I could recommend. While it probably isn't a very good choice to stand as a representative of the film noir genre, it is an interesting subject for anyone who is a student of filmmaking.

In this particular case, the movie was noteworthy for its camerawork, which was done by John Alton. Alton's involvement in his most noteworthy projects — "Father of the Bride," "The Teahouse of the August Moon" and "Elmer Gantry" — came later, but he had acquired a reputation for avant–garde camera angles when he did the work on "The Crooked Way."

The other thing falls under the heading of movie/TV trivia, I guess.

In a relatively brief scene set in a place called "Green Acres," actors Frank Cady and Percy Helton appeared in small roles. That is noteworthy, as folks who remember sitcoms of the '60s will tell you, because Cady and Helton were featured in the Green Acres series.