There Was a Crooked Man... (1970)

7.0
  • R
  • Genre: Western
  • Release year: 1970 (1970-09-19)
  • Running time: 126 min
  • Original Title: There Was a Crooked Man...
  • Voted: 3645
There Was a Crooked Man... is a movie starring Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, and Hume Cronyn. A charming but totally ruthless criminal is sent to a remote Arizona prison. He enlists the help of his cellmates in an escape attempt with...
#PersonCharacters
1Kirk DouglasParis Pitman, Jr.
2Henry FondaWoodward W. Lopeman
3Hume CronynDudley Whinner
4Warren OatesFloyd Moon
  • The Judgment of Paris 2/14/2006 12:00:00 AM by theowinthrop 7

    This is an interesting black comedy, from Joseph Mankiewicz, about the gullibility of man, and how greed can corrupt anyone. Henry Fonda is a lawman, in typical Fonda-style (before WARLOCK and the spaghetti westerns changed his image). He is a firm support for law and order. However, he has been shot and left lame by Warren Oates, a drunken outlaw. He may have to retire as a result sooner than he expected.

    At the start of the film we watch how Kirk Douglas (Paris Pitman) has robbed the home of Arthur O'Connor with his gang. They are killed off in one way or another. Pitman escapes with the money, and hides it in a hole full of rattlesnakes. But later he is captured. Pitman is sent to territorial prison, where he meets Oates, Burgess Meredith (as the legendary Missouri Kid), Hume Cronym and John Randolph (a pair of swindlers who are also a gay couple), and others. The warden is Martin Gabel, who soon makes it clear that if Douglas wants to be out sooner he needs the warden as a partner. But in a riot Gabel is killed, and Fonda is appointed the new warden.

    Fonda tries to reform the prison, improving facilities and setting up an honor system. Douglas, the total cynic, sneers at all this, and makes his own plans. He is not going to rot for two decades or so in prison while a fortune awaits for him. So he starts plotting to get out, and Fonda keeps watching to counter his plotting.

    I won't add anything else, but in the end one wonders if Paris Pitman's view of mankind is the truth of us all or not. The film has wonderful sharp comedy, including the comic put-downs of Cronyn when undercutting the pompous Randolph, and when one sees scenes like Burgess Meredith taking his first bath. I strongly recommend this film to fans of unusual westerns.

  • The Bad In Every Man 5/25/2008 12:00:00 AM by bkoganbing 9

    For his next to last film Joseph Mankiewicz did his only western and it ain't the west of John Ford or Howard Hawks. There Was A Crooked Man starts with the proposition that every man if given sufficient reason will turn dishonest.

    Kirk Douglas has never been afraid to appear as evil, but next to his performance in The List of Adrian Messenger, the screen's never seen him as diabolically evil as Paris Pittman, Jr. in There Was A Crooked Man. And it's clear from the start just how bad he is when he shoots the only other gang member after robbing miserly Arthur O'Connell of his half a million dollar fortune that he keeps in the house because of distrust of banks.

    So nothing that he does after this should surprise us. But Kirk Douglas is a player of incredible charm, never more so when used for evil intentions. Eventually he's caught and sent to Territorial prison from where he collects a gang of sorts and plots an escape.

    A year after the Stonewall Riots homosexuality finally comes to the west and its depicted in two ways. First John Randolph and Hume Cronyn are a pair of aging gay con men who've pulled one con too many and are in the prison with Douglas in the same cell. Randolph's the flighty one, but Cronyn as it turns out has more talent and more common sense than just about everyone else in the film. That fact saves their lives.

    And that's quite a look of lust that repressed prison guard Bert Freed has for young Michael Blodgett who admittedly is quite something to lust after. Blodgett is scheduled to hang at an undetermined date, but Freed's willing to give him some special consideration for special favors. Which Blodgett is unwilling to give him.

    Blodgett's story is the most tragic one of the lot. He's a 17 year old kid who's caught by a most flirtatious girl's father who cries rape. As the father aims his shotgun, Blodgett throws a billiard ball and the blow is a fatal one. I've always thought if the kid had a good lawyer he could have gotten off, it was self defense. He's really the only innocent in this film.

    The great moral figure in this is Henry Fonda, who's a lawman shot in the performance of his duty and now given the job of prison warden. He's another repressed individual, doesn't smoke or drink, and looks with particular disdain on sexual promiscuity.

    Without giving away exactly what Fonda does in the end, it seems he has no other choice. Douglas in pulling off the jail break has made a total fool of him. They'll be all kinds of inquiries so for Fonda the self righteous his duty is clear unless he wants to kill himself. Which in some cultures would have been the answer.

    But There Was A Crooked Man should be seen for what happens to Kirk Douglas. It is one of the most priceless comeuppances ever delivered on screen.

    Besides Douglas, Fonda, and others I've mentioned look also for good performances from Warren Oates and Burgess Meredith as another two convicts that Douglas takes into his confidence.

    Just as man can rise to noble heights on some occasions, with a little temptation he can fall. That's the unvarnished message of There Was A Crooked Man.

  • Uneven western that is difficult to recommend 10/3/2001 12:00:00 AM by roegrocks 7

    My commentary refers to minor elements of the plot of the film in question, revealing, to an inconsequential extent, some of the events of the movie. Some may interpret this as a SPOILER, but I am very careful not to expose anything specific crucial.

    Similar to "Paint Your Wagon" (1969) in it's use of a comedic western as a vehicle for social commentary, "There Was a Crooked Man" has a comic tone at times, but has difficulty being consistently one kind of movie: Is it a satire? Is it a comedy? Is it a bawdy western with a serious disguise? Is it a social commentary about the penal system? Is it an arc for Fonda's upright and uptight sheriff to find disillusionment?

    Kirk Douglas portrays a robber who will sacrifice anyone and anything to get the loot and come out on top, while Henry Fonda is a town sheriff who seems the exact opposite of Douglas, and who specializes in moral correctness. While attempting to practice what he preaches, kindness before cruelty, Fonda is shot apprehending a drunken Warren Oates. The town quickly and easily gives up hope in Fonda's ability to do his job, leading Fonda to volunteer as warden for the prison where both Douglas and Oates are incarcerated.

    Fonda begins a crusade to uplift the inmates of this desolate Arizona penal colony by abolishing obligatory hard labor and restricting cruel punishments upon the men. It seems the only way to earn Fonda's enmity as warden is to draw lascivious pictures of scantily clad women, as all other crimes are forgivable and reformable in Fonda' eyes.

    While Fonda is trying to teach the prisoners self-respect, Douglas is luring them into his aid with promises of sharing the money he stole in the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to the prison. Those he can't persuade he tricks into helping him by various plots and devices, all the while Fonda thinks Douglas should become the prisoners' leader and help give them hope by improving their living conditions. Burgess Meredith frequently steals the spotlight as a former flashy train robber that has been transformed by years in prison into a tired, gritty, petty old man who does nothing for free.

    The problem with this movie is not the excellent acting, but the tone and the Mickey Mouse musical score. It deals with murder and betrayal carelessly, it refers to revenge and cruelty with humor, and it moves back and forth from serious to light-hearted scenes so quickly and easily that it becomes difficult to maintain any clear perspective. In the middle of a murderous rampage an (apparently) hilarious food fight ensues while a buxom visitor to the prison is gradually, but incompletely, disrobed.

    Unlike other satires released that year such as "Catch-22" (1970) or "M.A.S.H." (1970), "There Was a Crooked Man" doesn't succeed in delivering a message, but only appears to chronicle an improbable series of events that have no meaning outside of itself, all the while the most irritating and thematically contrary music imaginable scores nearly every scene.

    Despite good acting and some laughs, it's a tough film to recommend. If there was a DVD version that allowed you to keep the dialog and eradicate the music, this would be a totally different, and much improved, movie.

  • There Was a Crooked Man... 1/16/2005 12:00:00 AM by Oliver-50 7

    Terrific mix of comedy/western/prison film about clever thief Kirk Douglas who lands himself in jail after robbing a rich man of $500,000 which he's hidden in a mountain. Honest, forthright sheriff Henry Fonda becomes warden of the jail with the intent on reforming the prisoners not punishing them. Kirk Douglas must plan his escape with the help of some colorful prisoners by bribing them. Very underrated and overlooked gem of the 70's wonderfully directed by Academy Award winning director Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Full of humor, excitement, and entertainment. Cynical and funny script has some great twists and the cast is perfect.

    ***1/2 out of ****

  • Nothing to laugh about 2/9/2014 12:00:00 AM by avgalia 4

    The film is set in 1883 in Arizona. A band of outlaws steals $500,000 from a wealthy businessman. The gang members die in a shootout, but the leader escapes and hides the loot in a women's underwear and drops it into a snake pit. Then he is recognized in a brothel and is arrested.

    End of the comedy..., may be not. It depends of your sense of humour. I must have none because to me what shows the movie afterwards is as funny as to die of a heart attack.

    Watching the movie I had the feeling that the director or the script did not know where to go and the film was navigating between two very different type of waters. And unfortunately one does not know until near the end.

    To call a comedy a movie were people are hanged, abused or murdered is something does not fit into my head. Nothing to laugh about.

#PersonCrew
1Harry Stradling Jr.cinematographer
2Charles Strousecomposer
3Joseph L. Mankiewiczdirector
4Gene Milfordeditor
5David Newmanwriter
6Robert Bentonwriter