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Robert F. McGowan
One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. See more »
RIDE A CROOKED MILE (Paramount, 1938), directed by Alfred E. Green, is an interesting little second feature film that is actually a showcase for Akim Tamiroff, a resident character actor, and Leif Erickson, a young recruit under contract to Paramount for two years, in his first major screen performance as the central character, but the sole interest of this long forgotten movie is Frances Farmer, whose name today is unfortunately more associated with biographical books and movies of her five terrible years committed to an insane asylum rather than of her brief (1936-1942) but not too spectacular movie career. What's even more sad is that after appearing in COME AND GET IT (Samuel Goldwyn, 1936), featuring Edward Arnold, which is hailed by many to be Farmer's best screen performance, that Paramount failed to give her more rewarding and challenging parts. But the fault can also be blamed on Farmer herself, who preferred Broadway over Hollywood, and was known to have been very difficult on the set during filming.
The story involves Akim Tamiroff as Mike Balin, a hard-fighting Cossack who is the head of a gang of thieves who hijack cattle on their way to the stockyards. Balin meets up with his ex-wife, Marie (Genia Nikolajeva) whom he hasn't seen in over 20 years. In as much as they can't stand one another, Marie, who know calls herself Myrna, informs him that he has a 21-year-old son, Montgomery Simpkins (Leif Erickson), whom she leaves with him so that father and son can get acquainted. Mike resents this young stranger claiming to be his son, and even hates the name of Montgomery. But after father and son fight it out together, the old man's resentment towards his son immediately changes to admiration and respect for that not only is he "handy with his dukes," but presents himself to be just as tough as he is. Changing his son's name from Montgomery to "Johnny," both father and son form mutual bonding. "Johnny" then becomes interested Mike's lady friend, a café hostess named Trina (Frances Farmer). Later, the law catches up with Mike and is caught and arrested while in the steam room, and is sentenced to serve time in Leavenworth Prison. After Johnny becomes a state trooper, he plots to help his father escape, but is caught between his loyalty to his father or to his job.
In the supporting cast are Lynne Overman as "Oklahoma," Mike's cell mate; John Miljan as Lt. Colonel Stuart; with Fred Kohler Sr., Robert Gleckler and Monte Blue, among others.
RIDE A CROOKED MILE is surprisingly good for a "B" film, a forgotten movie by all means with a western-sounding title, but what hurts the chances of having this movie ever resurrected again on either cable television or distribution on video cassette is the lack of marquee names. It's featured star, Akim Tamiroff, gives his usual familiar accented tough guy performance who gets really rough on anybody who abuses animals, especially horses. Although Leif Erickson, (the actor, not the first European explorer of the New World) does a commendable job as Tamiroff's long lost son, his days as a central character in a motion picture would soon be short-lived. After appearing opposite Sylvia Sidney in ONE-THIRD OF A NATION (Paramount, 1939), Erickson soon drifted to small roles in second rate movies, and even smaller roles in "A" productions, such as the Barbara Stanwyck version of SORRY, WRONG NUMBER (Paramount, 1948). TV fans of the late 1960s would remember him fondly for the lead in the hourly TV western series, HIGH CHAPARRAL for NBC in the 1960s. It should also be noted that Erickson and Frances Farmer were both married when they appeared in this production. Farmer and Erickson even get to sing a Russian song during the café sequence.
RIDE A CROOKED MILE is a fine action film that tries and somewhat succeeds into being a different kind of "B" movie. Even the prison scenes are well staged, done in good tight and close-ups. Of major interest to film historians, it's sole purpose for seeing this is not for its limited presence of Frances Farmer, but the movie as a whole. (***)
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