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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

THE CROOKED WAY (1949)

Journeyman megger Robert Florey wastes a far-fetched, but intriguingly odd set up in this twisty film noir. John Payne stars, toughening up his lightweight leading man act*, as a WWII vet fresh out of rehab, but lost to amnesia. His service record gives him a name and a home town, but when he arrives he’s still in the dark. It’s everyone else who knows all about him! Cops, gangsters, ex-gal pals; he plays along with ‘em all, trying to fill in the blanks before they can take advantage of him. A great gag as the poor schmuck immediately gets picked up for questioning, punched out, or made love to by a series of virtual strangers. How can this idea miss? But miss it does. Playing a blank, Payne’s a little too blank; and Florey doesn’t get much out of a backstory that explains how Payne squealed on old partner Sonny Tufts, a nasty case now out for violent revenge. Still, worth a look if only for the ultra-noiry cinematography of John (Prince of Darkness) Alton, and for a nihilistic shoot-out climax at a warehouse so well staged it warrants a solo curtain call for Production Designer Van Nest Polgase, an unsung Hollywood sage who did the Astaire/Rogers musicals and CITIZEN KANE among his 300+ credits.

DOUBLE-BILL: *Payne’s following in the footsteps of Dick Powell, another light lead who reinvented himself as a tough Private Dick in MURDER, MY SWEET/’44 and the even better/funnier CORNERED/’45.

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