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A World War II veteran, suffering from amnesia but otherwise healthy, is released from a veteran's hospital, decides to return to Los Angeles to see if he can regain his identity. Trying to retrace his former steps he soon learns that he was a double-crossing gangster, and many people have reasons to wish he wasn't around...and some try to see to it that he isn't around very long...alive, at least. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
More Dark Shadows Along The Crooked Way Than Any Noir Fan Could Ask For
In the series of tough crime melodramas he made during the late 1940's and early 1950's John Payne invariably seems to be looking for something. In Kansas City Confidential (1952) it was the stolen loot from a robbery. In 99 River Street (1953) it was the thug who framed him for murder. In The Crooked Way (1949) it was something much more basic -- his very identity.
Payne plays Eddie Rice, a WW II veteran recovered from the physical effects of a head wound but suffering a complete and permanent amnesia. He has no memory of his life before regaining consciousness in a hospital. All he knows about himself is what the Army has told him, that he enlisted in Los Angeles. When discharged from the hospital, he takes a train to L. A. to try and find out who he is. What he finds is more than he really wanted to know! That he was a hoodlum named Eddie Riccardi. That he has a wife (Ellen Drew), but she now hates his guts. That his former gangster partner, played with evil oozing from every pore by Sonny Tufts, is bent on beating him up, framing him for murder, and even more nasty things.
How Eddie muddles though this dark nightmare of a past coming back to haunt him and how it is presented by director Robery Florey and cinematographer John Alton adds up to a classic forgotten gem of a noir thriller. The Crooked Way exhibits the classic elements of film noir -- a morally ambiguous protagonist, a femme fa-tale, a grim, brutal story, and the most starkly shadowed and obliquely angled cinematography found in any movie. Most of the scenes are at night, and Alton's camera throws a tenebrist gloom over every shot with only the speaker's face lighted. Sometimes all figures are silhouettes, then the face gradually comes to light. A tall man looks down at a short man, and the view is as from a second story window. All this dark, oblique cinematography is not only arty and thrilling on its on to noir groupies, but it works perfectly to portray the dream-like state Eddie is experiencing. The story moves along briskly under Florey's direction and Frank Sullivan's editing. The action is explosively sharp and brutal.
John Payne was perfectly cast in the part of Eddie, maintaining a blank, confused expression you would expect from an amnesiac, even when getting tough. Getting tough was an item that John Payne, an ex-boxer and a WWII veteran in real life, was good at in spite of his mild, laid back manner. He was at this point starting to mature as a tough guy actor after abandoning his original song and dance career at least in part because he got too weathered and muscled up. Payne seems to be an acquired taste amongst present day lovers of classic movies, but I've acquired it and am now looking for all of his pictures.
The Crooked Way, while a cut below Kansas City Confidential and 99 River Street, is one of John Payne's best.
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