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For a modestly budgeted, unambitious horse opera, this is as good as it gets. Audie Murphy's Western vehicles of the 50s don't command the respect of Randolph Scott's or Joel McCrea's, but they are just as entertaining. A few of them ("No Name On The Bullet," "Posse From Hell") have an unusual edge that makes them noteworthy, but this one simply transcends its limitations to be a damned good entertainment. Walter Matthau steals every scene he's in as an alcoholic judge, while Murphy's subtly nervous performance as the would-be outlaw pretending he's a respected lawman may remind one of David Janssen as TV's "The Fugitive." Audie reportedly was uncomfortable with romantic scenes, but here he handles some innuendo-laden dialogue with Gia Scala quite nicely. Henry Silva and Mort Mills provide some surprisingly restrained (for this sort of thing) villainy. The premise (good-at-heart outlaw is reformed by wearing a badge) was old hat, but the execution is great! Set your expectations for a medium budgeted Western with no pretensions, and you won't be disappointed. You may even be pleasantly surprised.
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,
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.
i really enjoyed this western as i always liked audie murphy westerns.
also a great performance by walter matthau as the crusty old judge.
also gia scala is great as the bad girl with a big heart
i wish they would show this, other audie murphy movies and all the 50's westerns
from universal-international on tcm. also what do we have to do to get these great old western from universal on DVD? "ride a crooked trail" rates up there with me with "the cimmaron kid" "night passage" "the duel at silver creek" and the "unforgiven" as audie's great westerns. they put out old black & white westerns from the 30's and 40's from other studios but why don't they put universal's great color westerns from the 50's out on DVD
This was a good Westrn, pretty much of a formula Western of Hollywood from 1950 to 1990, in which the hero begins as a bad guy. One wonders if a Western hero could ever have started out good to be a Hollywood hero. The answer is "no". Murphy plays an outlaw who assumes the identity of a lawman whom he sees fall off a cliff. He becomes a celebrity in a town where the law in a roguish judge played by Walter Mattheau. The movie is more of a showcase for him than anything, and he does brilliantly. People who know who Audie Murphy really is show up with ulterior motives, and Murphy finds himself in the middle. No doubt, most people will find the main character's part a bit formula, but likewise, most people will enjoy Mattheau very much. A lot of likable aspects to this story. Not packed with gunplay, but there are several guns going off. Enough action to keep 98% of the audience interested. Lots to like.
Ride a Crooked Trail is directed by Jesse Hibbs and adapted to
screenplay by Borden Chase from a story written by George Bruce. It
stars Audie Murphy, Walter Matthau, Gia Scala, Leo Gordon, Henry Silva
and Eddie Little. A CinemaScope/Eastman Color production, music is by
Joseph Gershenson and cinematography by Harold Lipstein.
A blend of the breezy and the beefy here as Audie saddles up as Joe Maybe, a bank robber who after assuming the identity of the detective who was sent to capture him, winds up as the sheriff of a corrupt town. Ironically it's the town he and his dastardly cohorts had planned for their next big robbery. But as Joe insinuates himself into the company of the town's better citizens, he begins to doubt his dark side.
It's pretty routine as per the bad man trying to turn good axis of Western movie plotting, but there's a good sense of fun running throughout. Murphy himself seems to really be enjoying himself in the role of Joe Maybe. Leading the front of frivolity is Matthau as the town judge, his capacity for alcohol is as legendary as his ability to find a quip or sarcasm in the most trying of situations. Many of the scenes shared between the two men are most funny, be it hangovers, court room shenanigans or generally sounding each other out, they make for a great pair of characters.
Of course all this good fun has to ease off for the plot to take its darker turn. Which brings in the villains and the action scenes just as Joe's conscience starts to gnaw away at him. Costuming is appealing, especially when modelled by Scala, Gershenson provides another one of his lively Western musical scores and Lipstein's Scope photography makes good use of the gorgeous scenery. It's a bit creaky in parts and Hibbs sometimes lets the pace sag, but this is good entertainment for Audie and Matthau fans. 6.5/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I always have some misgivings watching Audie Murphy portray a bad guy
(Gunsmoke, No Name on the Bullet); he's got that clean cut All-American
look going for him that doesn't seem to jive with his character. The
same is true here, but the thing is, he's not really an outlaw in this
picture except in name. Arriving in a Western town while on the run,
he's mistakenly assumed to be the U.S. Marshal who was tracking him at
the start of the story. Too bad about the marshal, he should have
watched his step.
This may be a starring vehicle for Murphy, but it's Walter Matthau who holds this thing together as the cantankerous Judge Kyle. He's a pretty tough lawman who's word goes in town (how come this town didn't have a name?), and his gruff manner steals every scene he's in. It doesn't take long for the judge to read the fake marshal, but he keeps his play close to the vest until an intended bank robbery eventually goes down. Joe Maybe (Murphy) maintains an uneasy alliance with outlaw Sam Keeler (Henry Silva), and when the time is right, the Curtis Bank will be ripe for picking.
The hook in the story rests with the young boy Jimmy who's befriended by Maybe. I liked the tale about Maybe getting his name, shortened from May's boy, and how he was raised by some saloon gals. It was a bit too coincidental that Jimmy's growing up in the same circumstances, and it didn't quite ring true to me to see him doing that much school work. About as implausible as Maybe playing house with Keeler's girlfriend Tessa (Gia Scala), while planning on robbing the bank herself along with Keeler's bunch. So it's no surprise that Maybe second guesses himself throughout the picture and winds up going straight for good after settling the score with Keeler. It's probably best not to think about all of this too much while watching the picture, especially the part about Maybe and Tessa given their own furnished home to live in within twenty four hours of arriving on the scene. No wonder Murphy had that incredulous look on his face throughout the story.
I would have to say, walter matthau in this early supporting
performance was truly a stage presence to have in a film like this.
This movie being one that shows the lines and decisions that a born
tough guy must make to decide whats really whats truly dear to him.
Sort of a shadow to Audie Murphy's character was the young boy, who
grew up also in a saloon, but never stood a chance to grow up straight
until a man, such as himself took a stand against injustice and only
then, was the young boy cured of the sins he was born into...
Excellent choice if you want to know what moral 50's Hollywood wanted to put out there.
.....when I look at Audie Murphy's filmography ;apart from Huston
,Siegel and Mankiewicz,it's mostly B movies .That does not mean they
were not good;this actor sometimes got excellent screenplays:"no name
on the bullet" is a good example.
Like "hell bent for leather","ride on a crooked trail" -which perfectly depicts the hero's life till...-is a case of mistaken identity.The story may seem trite ,but the characters are colorful and there's more humor than in the average western.
Walter Matthau as the grumpy kind-hearted judge accentuates the comedy side of the film.Henry Silva restores the balance .
In his movies ,boyish Murphy has always had a bizarre Relationship with women (in one of his roles,he's alone in a fort and he's got to teach them the soldier job):here he sleeps in the bathtub and cooks breakfast for his "wife " Gia Scala (the future traitor in "guns of Navarone" ).There's actually a good chemistry between the two stars who must pretend they are husband and wife ,which gives good lines when Murphy says that "this bank is almost his" and his companion,very interested in the place too,has to be involved in women's club ,which is not her cup of tea (in both senses of the term).
Even more interesting is the friendship between Murphy and the little brat ;both are waifs ,raised in bars ,and if the judge considers his marshal a little as his adoptive son,the cute Jimmy feels that he might find a family too .Anyway,both the judge and the kid ,who leaves the house he 'd like to call home,guess there's something wrong: two married persons share the same bedroom and the same bed ,every kid knows that.
Jimmy is a strong kid who knows what he wants : we see him study -which is very rare in westerns-,and finally he plays a prominent part in Maybe's redemption.
In Ride A Crooked Trail a young fugitive Audie Murphy is forced to
assume the identity of a famous US Marshal when he's seen with a broken
badge that this marshal was known to wear. The marshal was killed on
the trail, but Murphy had no hand in that.
This film is a treat for fans of Walter Matthau who plays a Roy Bean like judge who enforces his decisions with a shotgun that he wields to deadly effect. Being fast on the draw does nobody any good with Matthau having it out and ready to splatter an entire saloon full of outlaws.
But Murphy goes along as it fits into his plans to rob the town bank at an opportune moment. Gia Scala an entertainer from New Orleans and her outlaw boyfriend Henry Silva may spoil things. But Murphy has plans for both of them.
This is a decent enough Audie Murphy western, but Walter Matthau as the judge really makes this one special. Matthau did all kinds of roles before he became a star after the Oscar he received for The Fortune Cookie, some serious, some comic, some good guys, some bad. Here like Roy Bean he's the symbol for law and order in his part of the frontier, but like Roy Bean he makes it up as he goes along.
Audie's fans will like Ride A Crooked Trail, but for fans of Walter Matthau here's a chance to discover one of his more neglected performances.
the cast makes difference in this case. the story, the end, the little tricks are old ingredients of genre. and performance, it can be only correct because it represents only part of machine. so,for not to be another western, this film search be a different game. the nice Audie Murphy gives all necessary nuances to his bad guy with good soul, Eddie Little represents ideal spice for a story of masks, using the Puck place and remembers from Lassie, but the key of film are Gia Scala in a splendid role and , sure, Walter Mathau.and this is the secret of this little film - the balance between humor and drama, the expected events in soft package. in same measure, good occasion to remember the "roots" of Henry Silva.
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