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A ruthless pirate captures the keeper of a lighthouse, somewhere in north Argentina. His goal is obvious and horrific. He plans to control the lighthouses signals in a way that the passing ships will be crushed on the rocks.
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Charm, intelligence and success in criminal career doesn't prevent Paris Pitman Jr. to start doing ten years in prison, in the middle of the Arizona desert. However, those years should pass quickly because of a $500,000 loot previously stashed away. New idealistic warden would only make Pitman think of getting his fortune even sooner. He starts to manipulate everyone to achieve his goal. Written by
Dragan Antulov <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In the climactic prison uprising, Barbara Rhoades is last seen wearing a corset (with amply jiggling cleavage), a decorative hat and one elbow-length glove. However, interviews with Rhoades, and an actress who'd turned down the role, reveal that the scene went further and Rhoades was filmed virtually nude. At least one still photo (apparently from the movie) shows her nude from the waist up, wearing the same hat and elbow-length glove mentioned above (she turned down a proposed "Playboy" pictorial). In a pre-release interview, Rhoades told interviewer Dan Lewis that she didn't realize her scene would be so "explicit" until the day of shooting. Her character reportedly flees "after her clothes are torn off in a prison scene and she races across the desert in her birthday suit". Eileen O'Neill was offered the role but turned it down. "When I read the script, my character is ravaged by the revolting prisoners and they tear her clothes off. She then had to run nude from the prison to an outside area lit with floodlights." Even co-star Michael Blodgett "excitedly" told Hollywood gossip columnist Marilyn Beck, "It's a prison story, wild and new . . . man, such nudity!" Why the explicit nudity was deleted is unexplained, and the footage is presumed lost. By today's standards, what remains is fairly tame: a couple glimpses of the bare backside of Kirk Douglas, a glimpse of a bare breast here and there and some mildly risqué drawings. Promoted as a "cynical western," the film was released on Christmas Day 1970. It did poorly at the holiday box office. See more »
After escaping from prison, Pitman visits the widow Bullard and leaves the prison mule in her corral and takes a horse. After being bitten by the snake and dying, the warden takes his body back on the horse he rode, which now is a mule again. See more »
For his next to last film Joseph Mankiewicz did his only western and it ain't the west of John Ford or Howard Hawks. There Was A Crooked Man starts with the proposition that every man if given sufficient reason will turn dishonest.
Kirk Douglas has never been afraid to appear as evil, but next to his performance in The List of Adrian Messenger, the screen's never seen him as diabolically evil as Paris Pittman, Jr. in There Was A Crooked Man. And it's clear from the start just how bad he is when he shoots the only other gang member after robbing miserly Arthur O'Connell of his half a million dollar fortune that he keeps in the house because of distrust of banks.
So nothing that he does after this should surprise us. But Kirk Douglas is a player of incredible charm, never more so when used for evil intentions. Eventually he's caught and sent to Territorial prison from where he collects a gang of sorts and plots an escape.
A year after the Stonewall Riots homosexuality finally comes to the west and its depicted in two ways. First John Randolph and Hume Cronyn are a pair of aging gay con men who've pulled one con too many and are in the prison with Douglas in the same cell. Randolph's the flighty one, but Cronyn as it turns out has more talent and more common sense than just about everyone else in the film. That fact saves their lives.
And that's quite a look of lust that repressed prison guard Bert Freed has for young Michael Blodgett who admittedly is quite something to lust after. Blodgett is scheduled to hang at an undetermined date, but Freed's willing to give him some special consideration for special favors. Which Blodgett is unwilling to give him.
Blodgett's story is the most tragic one of the lot. He's a 17 year old kid who's caught by a most flirtatious girl's father who cries rape. As the father aims his shotgun, Blodgett throws a billiard ball and the blow is a fatal one. I've always thought if the kid had a good lawyer he could have gotten off, it was self defense. He's really the only innocent in this film.
The great moral figure in this is Henry Fonda, who's a lawman shot in the performance of his duty and now given the job of prison warden. He's another repressed individual, doesn't smoke or drink, and looks with particular disdain on sexual promiscuity.
Without giving away exactly what Fonda does in the end, it seems he has no other choice. Douglas in pulling off the jail break has made a total fool of him. They'll be all kinds of inquiries so for Fonda the self righteous his duty is clear unless he wants to kill himself. Which in some cultures would have been the answer.
But There Was A Crooked Man should be seen for what happens to Kirk Douglas. It is one of the most priceless comeuppances ever delivered on screen.
Besides Douglas, Fonda, and others I've mentioned look also for good performances from Warren Oates and Burgess Meredith as another two convicts that Douglas takes into his confidence.
Just as man can rise to noble heights on some occasions, with a little temptation he can fall. That's the unvarnished message of There Was A Crooked Man.
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