Day Four of Noirvember: See it on TCM – The Crooked Way (1949)
When The Crooked Way was released in 1949, one critic gushed that it was “the most blood-thirsty crook melodrama in a long time.”
If that ain’t enough of a recommendation for you, well, I just don’t know what.
Distributed by United Artists, The Crooked Way stars John Payne as Eddie Rice, a veteran of WWII who didn’t escape the battlefield unscathed – he carried a piece of shrapnel in his brain that left him with a permanent case of amnesia. The only thing Eddie knows is that he signed up for the war in Los Angeles, so after his release from Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco, he heads for the City of Angels in an effort to unearth his past. Turns out that Eddie has a bitter ex-wife, Nina (Ellen Drew), a police record as long as your arm, and a former partner-in-crime, Vince (Sonny Tufts), who’s bent on revenge.
Will Eddie’s amnesia be reversed? Will his ex-wife forgive him? Will he be the victim of The Big Payback by Vince? Tune in to TCM November 5th and find out!
Meanwhile, here’s some more stuff to whet your appetite:
The female lead in the film, Ellen Drew, was born Esther Loretta Ray. She was the daughter of an Irish barber. She was working at an ice cream parlor in Hollywood when she caught the attention of one of her customers, none other than William Demarest, who was instrumental in having her put under contract at Paramount Studios. For the first two years of her career, she was billed as Terry Ray.
The director of The Crooked Way, Robert Florey, only helmed one other film noir – Danger Signal in 1946 – but he had a prolific career that began in the pre-Code era with such features as Ex-Lady (1933), with Bette Davis; House on 56th Street (1933), starring Kay Francis and Ricardo Cortez: and Smarty (1934), a Joan Blondell vehicle.
The film’s cinematographer was the famed John Alton, whose creativity with lights and shadows graced numerous other noirs, including T-Men (1947), Raw Deal (1948), Hollow Triumph (1948), He Walked By Night (1948), Border Incident (1949), and The Big Combo (1955). He once said, “It’s not what you light – it’s what you DON’T light.” Alton started his career as a lab technician at MGM, signed on as a cameraman at Paramount, and eventually became one of the industry’s most well-respected cinematographers. Along with Alfred Gilks, he won an Oscar for Best Color Photography in 1951 for An American in Paris. It was his first color film.
The cast features one of my favorite noir character actors: Percy Helton, he of the memorable face and the even more distinctive voice. Reportedly, Helton’s voice became permanently hoarse after he performed in a play that required him to scream for much of the production.
The Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco was a real place. Built around 1898, it was redesignated in 1969 as the Letterman Army Medical Center. It was abandoned in 1994, but some of the original buildings from 1898 are still standing and now house the Thoreau Center for Sustainability. Most of the former hospital grounds are now the home of the Letterman Digital and New Media Arts Center, headquarters of filmmaker John Lucas’s Lucasfilm.
Catch The Crooked Way Saturday, November 5th on TCM. You’ll be glad you did. For real.
And join me tomorrow for Day Five of Noirvember!