After robbing a bank Murphy assumes the identity of his pursuer, a famous US Marshal, when he stumbles into a town and is confronted by the local judge, Matthau. Murphy is forced to remain ... See full summary »
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After robbing a bank Murphy assumes the identity of his pursuer, a famous US Marshal, when he stumbles into a town and is confronted by the local judge, Matthau. Murphy is forced to remain as the new Marshal; an old flame, Scala, nearly unmasks him by accident, only to be forced to assume the ruse of being Murphy's wife. The "couple" given a house and respectability, which neither has had before. They maintain the charade to avoid hurting a young orphan boy, Matthau's ward. Scala is torn by her loyalty to boyfriend planning to rob the bank and growing feelings for Murphy. Written by
Teeler is interested in that bank, and so am I. When I learn how this town works, he'll ride in with ten men, and do what you'd like to do.
You're still talkin' about the bank?
When you write to Teeler, tell him I got here first. And I'm not just talkin' about the bank!
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RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL is an Audie Murphy western distinguished by good writing and a flamboyant early role for Walter Matthau as a silver-haired, hard-drinking, shotgun-toting judge in a growing river town. It has surprisingly little action for a Murphy western, but it's consistently engaging thanks to a group of interesting, well-etched characters, a strong cast, some welcome humor, and a script by western veteran Borden Chase (WINCHESTER '73, BEND OF THE RIVER, THE FAR COUNTRY, BACKLASH, etc.).
Murphy was always at his best when surrounded by solid co-stars and here he's got Matthau as a persistent father figure; Gia Scala as a femme fatale ripe for reform; and Henry Silva as an outlaw gang leader. Murphy plays a wanted outlaw himself who is mistaken by Matthau for a missing marshal (who'd fallen off a cliff while pursuing Murphy) and soon has to assume the functions of the marshal's office in order to keep up the charade and escape detection. When Scala gets off the riverboat from New Orleans, she recognizes Murphy and calls him by his real name, "Maybe," forcing Murphy to cover up by telling Matthau Scala is his wife. But Scala is there to case the town's bank for Silva, so she has to act the respectable lady for a few days till Silva and company come to town. Both she and, later, Silva expect Murphy to help with the bank job. After a while, Matthau starts to get suspicious, even as Murphy begins to grow comfortable in the marshal's job. Added to the mix are a precocious orphan boy (Eddie Little) and a dog who, true to form, gradually tug at Audie's and Gia's heartstrings.
Murphy seems more relaxed here than usual. Perhaps he was grateful for the opportunity to turn the more attention-getting dramatics over to Matthau. Murphy also has good chemistry with Scala, who is quite attractive and confident here in a way that looks forward to Isabella Rossellini (who played a similar role in Lawrence Kasdan's WYATT EARP, 1994, with Kevin Costner).
Joanna Moore (mother of Tatum O'Neal) makes an attractive saloon girl. Mort Mills has a small, vivid part as one of Silva's gang and his appearance will be enjoyed by those who recall him as Charlton Heston's sympathetic colleague in TOUCH OF EVIL the same year and as the highway patrolman who stops Janet Leigh in PSYCHO.
Most of the film was shot in a western town set on the Universal Pictures backlot, although a few chase-and-cattle scenes take place on location late in the film. It's a relatively light-hearted film for screenwriter Chase, who wrote or co-wrote so many harder-edged westerns, but it turns out to be among the best of the roughly two dozen westerns Murphy made at Universal.
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