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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In one scene, John Payne hitches a ride in a mortuary van from a place called "Green Acres". It's coincidental that the movie's cast includes Frank Cady and Percy Helton, who both appeared on the TV series of the same name. See more »
Alexander's position in front of the War Surplus store changes between shots. See more »
Two Johns (Payne and Alton) make obscure amnesiac-veteran noir worth reviving
One measure of The Crooked Way's obscurity may be that the only copy I could track down was subtitled in Hebrew. That obscurity is puzzling, because the movie is, if not a superior, certainly an above-average entry in the noir cycle. It boasts John Payne as its star, but before Phil Karlson groomed him into an archetypal noir protagonist. What's more, none other than John Alton was cinematographer, casting his customary shadowy spell; while he doesn't scale the dark peaks he did in collaboration with Anthony Mann, he makes French-born director Robert Florey's film look very good very ominous indeed.
But The Crooked Way stays eclipsed by a movie of three years earlier eerily close in theme and milieu, Somewhere in the Night, starring John Hodiak. Hodiak and Payne both play amnesiac veterans trying to reconstruct their troubling pasts in journeys through the underbelly of Los Angeles.
In The Crooked Way, Payne, having won a Silver Star but lost his memory, gets discharged from a veterans' hospital and heads `home;' that he hails from L.A. is all he knows about himself. But at Union Station, two police detectives meet him, calling him Eddie Riccardi (so far as he knows, he's Eddie Rice). Five years earlier, as it turns out, Payne worked for mob boss Sonny Tufts, whom he set up then fled to the Army; he was married to Ellen Drew, also connected to the syndicate. Ultimately, Payne finds himself hounded by the police and beaten by the mob, then framed for murder. He's running for his life and out of people he's told he can rely on....
Payne, with his brooding eyes and impassive visage, makes a more convincing vet and victim than Hodiak, but, apart from that, the story gets told conventionally. That raspy-voiced gnome Percy Helton scuttles around as one of Tufts' eye-and-ear operatives, and Drew gets some tough moments in strapless gowns (though inevitably, when her character softens, she goes bland). Still, it's a solid noir that deserves rehabilitation if for no other reason than that it preserves Alton's precious photography.
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