Monday, August 3, 2015

The Crooked Way (1949) The Most Graphic Noir

(SLWB  February 06, 2012)

John Alton's chiaroscuro cinematography imparts upon The Crooked Way what could arguably be the most Graphic Novel look to a Classic Film Noir.

Director Robert Florey (The Vicious Years (1950), Johnny One-Eye (1950), segued into TV early did some Alfred Hitchcock Presents,  Twilight Zones and Outer Limits), Director of Photography was Master Cinematographer John Alton (about fourteen Classic Noir to his scorecard). Music was by Louis Forbes.

The film stars John Payne (Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Larceny (1948), Kansas City Confidential (1952), 99 River Street (1953), Slightly Scarlet (1956), Hidden Fear (1957)), Sonny Tufts (No Escape (1953), Cat-Women of the Moon (1953), The Seven Year Itch (1955)), Ellen Drew (Johnny O'Clock (1947)), Rhys Williams (Nightmare (1956)), Percy Helton (nine Classic Noir), and John Doucette (eight Classic Film Noir), Ester Howard (Murder, My Sweet (1944), Detour (1945), Born to Kill (1947), No Man of Her Own (1950), Caged (1950)), Frank Cady, Charles Evans, who also had some Noir on their curriculum vitae. Cady I just watched the other day in The Asphalt Jungle.

San Francisco

That piece of shrapnel is causing organic amnesia

Eddie Rice (Payne)
Eddie Rice (Payne), wakes up in a San Francisco Veterans Hospital after WWII with a Silver Star but no memory. The Doc tells him his amnesia is "organic" and that the piece of shrapnel in his head has permanently erased his past. The Doc suggests that he attempt to piece his life together by returning to familiar surroundings. His enlistment hometown was L.A., maybe if he goes home he will run into someone who knew him.


Eddie buys it. We buy it. Yes, a chance. A once upon a time like big dream, about how, just out of plain crazy ass dumb luck, he'll walk around in The City of Angels and will run into somebody he knows. Then, maybe that person will lead him to another, and then that person to yet another and he'll happily put together his story piece by piece. He figures it's gonna be hard, it's gonna take time. He diligently studies a pamphlet about Los Angeles riding the train on the way down.

Union Station


Surprise Eddie!
Yo. The friggin minute he steps out of Union Station he's pinched by the cops. They are there looking for somebody else, and look who drops into their laps.  He's picked up and hauled down to the police station. They know who you are, Eddie.

Sgt. Barrett (John Doucette) and Lt. Joe Williams (Rhys Williams) 

At the station Eddie Rice finds out he's Eddie Riccardi. Foregedboudit, Eddie's gotta be really scrambled in the head. He can't even remember that he was Italian.

From the cops file he reads that he worked with a sort of Southern California hillbilly hood/mob boss Vince Alexander (Sonny Tufts), whom he framed before he joined the Army and disappeared into WWII.

He also finds out he was married to B-Girl (Nina) Ellen Drew, who also has mob connections. She is working in an illegal gambling parlor, she oversees the girls, always on the lookout for those with new "talents." Thanks to the MPPC we can allow our wildest imagination figure out what that meant, lol.

Caught between the cops and the mob, Payne eventually wakes up in a car with a gun in his hand, a dead cop in the seat next to him, and a siren in the distance is getting louder. Just before the tipped off police arrive, Eddie scrambles out into the night.

Payne tracking his past life through L.A.

Nina Martin (Ellen Drew)

This Film is a gem. Alton's cinematography is extremely dark and claustrophobic and fits the subject matter well, a feast for Noir eyes with a nice juxtaposition of studio set & seedy location shots that make a fine example of the noir aesthetic. The large and varied cast actually enhances the amnesia angle to the story since minor character actors flicker for a few moments of screen time out of the shadows and then are gone, and just like Eddie, you don't  know whether they are a part of Eddie's past life or not.

Noirsville Alton's stylistic cinematography

Vince Alexander (Sonny Tufts) 


Pety (Percy Helton)

Hotel owner (Esther Howard)

Petey and his cat

New talent (Vera Marshe)

get that cat out of here

A Western Swing Bar

Like a lit stick of dynamite mad dog (Sony Tufts)
Payne plays a convincing amnesia victim, Drew is good as his ex wife, but Sonny Tufts as the mob boss is excellent, he is very convincing as an unhinged, wild eyed, mad dog, barely in control when angered, hood. He should have been in more Film Noir, his performance here is both impressive and very memorable. He spits, snarls, and I wouldn't be surprised if he bit, actually after checking his bio, he does bite. "In 1949 he had been found drunk on a Hollywood sidewalk. In 1950 he was sued by two women for allegedly biting each of them in the thigh." (IMDb mini bio)

This film may also have the distinction of being one of the only Film Noir to feature some Western Swing its diegetic soundtrack.

The screencaps are from the Geneon DVD, it's cheap, adequate but featureless, still a personal 9/10 for me.

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