“You come back here with a dumb look and a Silver Star and you think that changes anything?”
The Crooked Way a minor film noir title from director Robert Florey asks the questions: can a bad man ever become decent? And if he does become decent, will anyone believe him? WWII veteran Eddie Rice (John Payne) has a piece of shrapnel in his head and a case of amnesia. According to army records, he enlisted in Los Angeles, so following a medical discharge, he decides to return there and see if he can discover any clues to his past. A few moments after he arrives in town, Eddie is recognized by two policemen. It seems that Eddie Rice is actually Eddie Riccardi–a criminal who left town five years before. All the police have on Eddie is an old weapons charge, but Lt. Joe Williams (Rhys Williams) advises Eddie to leave Los Angeles while he still can. According to Williams, crime boss Vince Alexander (Sonny Tufts) who served a prison sentence thanks to Eddie’s testimony may have vengeance in mind if he ever sees Eddie again. But Eddie doesn’t listen to anyone’s advice, and he stays in town.
Lt. Williams doesn’t buy Eddie’s story about amnesia, and he doesn’t believe that he’s turned over a new leaf either. As for the Silver Star Eddie now has, Williams hazards a guess that he bought it for “two bits.” As Eddie prowls the streets of Los Angeles, he discovers that he has an ex-wife Nina (Ellen Drew) who works for Vince in one of his gambling joints. Nina isn’t thrilled to see Eddie back. She has a large scar on her shoulder that Eddie gave her, and she doesn’t buy the amnesia story either.
The Crooked Way starts slowly, and unfortunately John Payne and Ellen Drew never really grab their roles. Payne remains a little wooden, and although Drew acts her role well, she’s miscast here as the femme fatale. She seems more like a wholesome housewife than a femme fatale who bleeds men for their last penny. The last third of the film, however, is gripping, and it ends with a spectacular conclusion. Sonny Tufts as the evil gang boss is menacing and believable, and squeaky-voiced Percy Felton appears as the untrustworthy cat-loving snitch Petey. The print from Geneon Entertainment is good quality–lots of inky blacks and excellent use of shadows, and it’s the film’s exceptional cinematography from John Alton that makes this film well worth catching.