Saturday, February 27, 2016

THE CROOKED WAY (1949)


This is a dandy film noir set in Los Angeles. Dark shadows and odd camera angles abound. But it is John Payne’s search for his identity which makes it a little out of the ordinary. He plays a WWII veteran who’s past is completely wiped away by a piece of shrapnel in his brain. Permanent amnesia. He was treated by Dr. Kimble at the Letterman General Hospital. Not amusing then. He leaves the hospital with his correct first name but a new last name.

Almost immediately he is recognized and apprehended by police Lieutenant, Rhys Williams. Payne plays along with no idea where it will lead. His initial meeting with Ellen Drew is an eye-opener. She is his former wife. Payne levels with her about his amnesia but the trust is not there. She knows his past too well. Drew looking somewhat like a cross between Jane Greer and Loretta Young.


Crime boss, Sonny Tufts, had a long-time friendship with Payne until it turned sour when Payne betrayed him. Tufts figures it is payback time. His performance is one to remember and he is rarely credited for it. Payne is whisked away to Tufts home not knowing who he is. After being pummeled, Payne is kicked down the fire escape stairs. That sort of behavior from a total stranger sends the message that Tufts has some sort of beef. Payne begins to realize that his past has some kinks to work out.

The two encounters between Tufts and Williams are fun. Tufts looking quite calm and content during his self-manicures. Their cat and mouse conversations are gems. Each holding their disdain for one another in check. Seeing Williams “accidentally” knock over a pitcher of water in Tuft’s lap is beautiful.


Rotund, sandpaper-voiced tenor, Percy Helton, has a history with Payne. And pain. A man with no courage and a nagging cough. Or is it a fur ball shared with his cat, Samson? Under duress, he tries to shelter Payne but with little success. Near the end of the film, the police have Helton’s shop front riddled with bullets to get Tufts’ and Payne’s attention. The latter, half unconscious after several blows to the head from the former. Tufts drags Payne out the front door using him as a shield. The police demand his surrender. With no such intentions, Tufts’ maniacal rage is captured nicely in tight, sweaty close-ups. Now, in full view of the police, out crawls Helton through the door after being shot by Tufts’ men. He is the only human moving during that scene. How he could go unnoticed is funny. The police do not ask him to stop or why he was crawling through the front door with gun in hand. Helton manages to get a shot off toward Tufts. The police take it from there.


On amnesia’s positive side, Payne is indeed a new person. Drew finds him so different, so tender, it rekindles her affection for him.

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