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Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Hume Cronyn
Writing Credits:
David Newman, Robert Benton

A charming but ruthless criminal is sent to a remote Arizona prison where he enlists the help of his cellmates in an escape attempt with the promise of sharing his hidden loot.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 123 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 6/8/2021

• “On Location” Featurette
• Trailer


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There Was A Crooked Man [Blu-Ray] (1970)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 24, 2021)

Probably best-known for 1950’s Oscar-winning classic All About Eve, filmmaker Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s career ended with 1972’s Sleuth. That makes 1970’s There Was A Crooked Man… his penultimate effort.

Set in 1883, Paris Pitman Jr. (Kirk Douglas) winds up in Arizona Territorial Prison. There he uses his charm to become one of the most popular inmates.

It also helps that Paris claims to own $500,000 in loot hidden outside the prison. Paris butts heads with warden Woodward Lopeman (Henry Fonda) as he also works to convince his fellow prisoners to escape and retrieve the illicit money.

I don’t know if Sleuth allowed Mankiewicz to go out on top, but it delivered a pretty solid little mystery thriller. Certainly many other filmmakers finished their careers on much worse notes, as Sleuth remains a brisk, fun tale.

I wish I could claim that Crooked offered another late career winner from Mankiewicz. However, it provides a wholly spotty tale that lacks the consistency to become genuinely good.

Much of the problem comes from the movie’s derivative nature. It feels like Crooked combines The Great Escape and Butch Cassidy, without a lot of originality on display.

Crooked definitely embraces the anti-hero vibe of the era, with Paris as the charming rogue we want to see win despite his criminal nature. The movie adds nothing fresh to this notion and feels dated in its depiction.

We do find a fine cast from Crooked. In addition to Fonda and Douglas, we get talents like Hume Cronyn, John Randolph, Warren Oates, Burgess Meredith, and others.

They add class to the project, and I do enjoy the interaction between Douglas and Fonda in their one true co-starring film. Both also appeared in 1965’s In Harm’s Way, but Fonda played a cameo there.

That meant Crooked represented the sole chance for these two legends to face off, and they make the most of it. Their scenes together sparkle.

Otherwise, we find a spotty film without a whole lot of narrative thrust. Crooked mostly offers a romp that focuses on the antics of the inmates, so even though the prison break theme shadows the movie, it doesn’t become the main emphasis.

It doesn’t help that Crooked takes a dark turn in its last act that doesn’t fit the rest of the film. It feels cynical just for its own sake, and the finale threatens to spoil whatever fun we found in the prior 100 minutes or so.

Crooked’s cast gives the flick enough juice to keep the viewer engaged. Nonetheless, given all the talent involved, it becomes a moderate disappointment.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus C-

There Was A Crooked Man… appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Across the board, the transfer looked good.

No substantial issues with sharpness emerged. A few wider elements showed some minor softness, but those instances stayed minor.

No signs of jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and no edge enhancement was apparent. Source flaws remained absent, as I noticed no specks, marks or debris.

As befit the Western setting, colors looked low-key. They were always as full as the cinematography demanded, though, and they appeared solid. The occasional brighter hues seemed vivid and rich within the normally arid confines.

Blacks were dark and full, while shadows usually came across well. This was a consistently strong image.

As for the DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Crooked, it was perfectly positive for its era. Speech sounded intelligible and clear, without significant edginess.

The movie offered a pop-oriented score, and these elements came across reasonably well. While the music lacked great range, it seemed clear enough and boasted a bit of low-end.

The effects represented the source elements in a competent manner. These elements offered reasonable accuracy with passable great punch. All of this was good enough for a “B-“.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find a vintage featurette called “On Location”. It fills 10 minutes, 25 seconds and brings us comments from actor Michael Blodgett along with narration.

“Location” offers a general look at the shoot, with an emphasis on Blodgett’s work. Clearly those involved hoped to promote Blodgett and the Next Big Thing, which didn’t happen. Still, “Location” offers enough behind the scenes footage to merit a look.

With plenty of talent behind and in front of the camera, There Was A Crooked Man… should impress. However, outside of occasional moments of excellence, the movie seems surprisingly mediocre much of the time. The Blu-ray brings good picture and audio but it lacks many bonus features. Crooked keeps us mildly entertained and that’s about it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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