Monday, August 03, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Ride a Crooked Trail (1958) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL (1958) is another winner in the new Audie Murphy Collection from Kino Lorber.

This Blu-ray set, releasing this week, also includes the previously reviewed THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK (1952) and NO NAME ON THE BULLET (1959), which I'll be reviewing at a future date.

RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL is a really well-done film, written by top Western writer Borden Chase (RED RIVER and BEND OF THE RIVER), based on a story by George Bruce.

Audie plays Joe Maybe, who as the movie opens is a bank robber on the run from the law.  Joe's horse is shot out from under him, but when the marshal following him dies in an accidental fall, Joe rides the man's horse into the nearest town.

Through a series of circumstances, Joe is mistaken for the man who died, Marshal Noonan, and Judge Kyle (Walter Matthau) immediately hires him to keep order in the town.  The gunman turned lawman was a familiar Western theme around this time, including THE BADGE OF MARSHAL BRENNAN (1957) and FOUR FAST GUNS (1960), but like the other films, RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL gives the story a very original spin.

Joe's old flame Tessa (Gia Scala) shows up in town; she's now the girlfriend of bank robber Sam Teeler (Henry Silva), who's on his way to the town as well, but she finds herself posing as "Mrs. Noonan," the marshal's wife.  Before long Joe and Tessa have also taken in the Judge's young ward, an orphan named Jimmy (Eddie Little), not to mention his dog.  And though they're slow to admit it, both Joe and Tessa find they like being thought of as nice people in a nice town, with a family.

Would-be robbers coming to prefer their "cover" over a life of crime is another familiar tale, at least as far back as LARCENY, INC. (1942) and as recently as the previous year's THE BIG CAPER (1957) with Rory Calhoun.

In this case I found the story particularly heartwarming, as Joe recognizes himself in young Jimmy and realizes that if he'd had someone to take an interest in him, as the judge has done with Jimmy, perhaps his life would have gone another direction. And with Jimmy now looking up to him along with the judge, perhaps it's not too late.

Murphy is just terrific in this, regularly trading quips with Matthau and Scala but then having a quiet, painful talk one evening with Jimmy in which he opens up and shares his story.

As with so many of Murphy's movies, it's a well-constructed film which includes a key performance by an excellent supporting actor, in this case Matthau. Some writers give Murphy's best costars, such as Matthau, Dan Duryea, or Barry Sullivan, credit for carrying his films, but I don't see it quite that way; it's a real partnership, with Murphy and each actor drawing out the best in the other.  

Matthau's wonderful as the wily judge, whose hard drinking doesn't interfere with him being an ace with a gun, but he wouldn't be nearly as good without Murphy and his laconic line readings to play against.  The evolution of their relationship over the course of the movie is probably the best thing about the film.

Scala is excellent as the fiery Tessa, who finds herself falling for not just Joe but young Jimmy; she and Murphy have a good "fire and ice" chemistry, with Murphy dealing with her temper tantrums with some amusement.

Among the supporting cast I especially like Mary Field as the banker's wife; she's become a favorite character actress I always enjoy seeing. Field had a particular chance to shine in Universal Westerns such as this and FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER (1954), in which she played a nervy, gun-toting dressmaker.

RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL is a very solid Western which has a little bit of everything, including well-staged action scenes, humor, suspense, and family drama.  I see the film as having a lot of what I call "rewatch value" and will be returning to it in the future along with the other two films in the set.

RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL runs 88 minutes.  It was directed by Jesse Hibbs, who also headed another of Murphy's very best films, RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO (1954).  It was filmed by Harold Lipstein.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is an excellent print of this CinemaScope picture, including a strong soundtrack.

Extras include a commentary track by Toby Roan; the trailer; and two additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

I've been wanting to see this for years! Going to look for it next time I'm at our used book-and-movie store.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Ride a Crooked Trail is one of Audie's best. Just great fun.

I also just watched one of Audie's lesser ones. The Quick Gun. Don't want to call it a dud, but it wasn't great.

4:20 PM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, a really good write-up of one of Audie Murphy's best Westerns. This movie has a lot going for it and is well worth watching. The only thing is,there wasn't enough of Leo Gordon.

Margot, stick with Audie's Universal-International output, because they are his best Westerns, except for THE UNFORGIVEN(filmed in 1959, released 1960), which was released through United Artists.

11:15 PM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Excellent review.

The hubby doesn't usually sit for westerns with me but lately he watched both Ride a Crooked Trail and Hangman's Knot. (Perhaps he's run out of "new" Law and Order episodes!)

5:31 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Before checking in at Laura's,after a few days off line I just ordered this set from ebay at what I thought a very nice price. These Kino sets are working out very good value,from ebay at least.I already have NO NAME ON THE BULLET on Blu Ray but did not mind the double dip especially after reading the DVD Beaver review and now your take on this film. NO NAME ON THE BULLET is sensational and generally most people's favourite Audie Western although my own personal favourite is HELL BENT FOR LEATHER. I also recently got the German Blu Ray of POSSE FROM HELL which also has some lovely mist shrouded Lone Pine locations,although the film is far tougher and brutal than most Audie Westerns. I agree with Margot that THE QUICK GUN is certainly one of Audie's lesser efforts,'though having said that the Sony MOD/DVD is a beautiful transfer. I'm hoping to upgrade other Audie Westerns to Blu Ray when they appear,at the moment my "most wanted" are THE KID FROM TEXAS,WALK THE PROUD LAND and ARIZONA RAIDERS. Top of the list though is HELL BENT FOR LEATHER with Felicia Farr the best of all of Audie's leading ladies.

8:47 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

John, I agree about No Name on the Bullet is probably his best.

About The Quick Gun, it's sort of a remake of Noose for a Gunman, which I actually thought was the better film.

9:33 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Margot,before NOOSE FOR A GUNMAN and THE QUICK GUN there was TOP GUN with Sterling Hayden which also happens to be the best of the three.
GUNFIGHT AT COMANCHE CREEK another sub par Audie is actually a rehash of LAST OF THE BADMEN again the original is better.
ARIZONA RAIDERS is yet another re cycled script this time being a rehash of Phil Karlson's THE TEXAS RANGERS. ARIZONA RAIDERS is good though and a favourite of Tarantino's,needless to say it's a pretty bloody affair.
When all is said and done regarding Audie Westerns the good far outweigh the not so good.

9:50 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all so much for your comments!!

Rachel, hope you can see it soon. Would love to know what you think.

Margot, I'm glad to know you love this one as well. Sorry to hear THE QUICK GUN wasn't so good. That's one I haven't seen yet.

Walter, thank you so much! I always like more Leo Gordon. :) I'm kind of glad that I still have a number of good Audie Murphy films to see for the first time, including THE UNFORGIVEN. Looking forward to it.

Caftan Woman, thank you also! That's very interesting that this one pulls in your hubby as well. I have only seen part of HANGMAN'S KNOT, I have it and need to sit down and watch it start to finish!

John K, always great to hear from you! Delighted you were able to get this set. I loved NO NAME ON THE BULLET the first time I saw it a few years ago and really look forward to revisiting it soon. I also need to pull out HELL BENT FOR LEATHER. I've made note that that's your favorite so I should bump that up in the Audie stack!

I haven't seen either NOOSE FOR A GUNMAN or THE QUICK GUN but have seen TOP GUN so was very interested the three films are related -- looks like all based on a Steve Fisher story? Thanks for that! Also really inerested to read that GUNFIGHT AT COMANCHE CREEK and ARIZONA RAIDERS were remakes Love learning new stuff like this!

Thanks to you all!

Best wishes,

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Tony Wendice said...

I only really started paying attention to Audie Murphy in the past few years. I think he's terribly underrated. I've seen 5 or 6 of his 1950s westerns and they are all highly enjoyable. I'd agree with Laura here. Watch him. You won't be disappointed.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, as we continue the Audie Murphy movie love fest. THE UNFORGIVEN is hands down an Audrey Hepburn and Burt Lancaster movie. Audie is good in it, as is John Saxon. I wish more could have been fleshed out with their scenes together, but moviemakers can't put everything in a particular movie, because you would have a four hour or longer movie. Also, a warning, there is a powerful lynching scene, which offers a surprising turn from one of the major characters.

On a non-Western note, have you ever seen Audie in the service comedy JOE BUTTERFLY(filmed in 1956, released 1957)? Audie Murphy and Charles McGraw in a comedy, which isn't an everyday happening.

7:18 AM  
Blogger mel said...

Walter, just about the only Audie Murphy movie in his entire filmography that I don't have a good copy of is JOE BUTTERFLY (my copy is a very inferior one recorded some years ago from television). I hope that someday someone will release a high-definition one...

And I wouldn't mind better copies of TEXAS, BROOKLYN AND HEAVEN (1948)and BAD BOY (1949).

12:42 AM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Mel, if my memory serves me right, I don't think that I have ever seen Audie's first movie, TEXAS, BROOKLYN, & HEAVEN(1948), of which he had a small part as the copy boy. Now, I have seen his first starring role in BAD BOY(filmed in 1948, released 1949) and I thought he was good in the role. It led to his being signed up by Universal-International Pictures and then it was off to the races.

There is a DVD of JOE BUTTERFLY out there somewhere, released four years ago, if you can find it. John K. will know more about that.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Tony,

Great to hear from you here! So glad you share my appreciation for this underrated actor. I’m happy that several of my regular readers/commenters are Audie fans as well! I’ve learned a lot from them about Audie’s work in the last few years. Thanks much for adding your endorsement to his films, I hope more film fans will try out his movies.

Best wishes,

7:59 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Walter, I really do need to see THE UNFORGIVEN, with that cast. Sounds like it’s perhaps flawed yet worthwhile. I’m very glad to know in advance about the lynching scene; thank you for being sensitive to my feelings about those scenes.

Mel and Walter, JOE BUTTERFLY sounds kinda amazing, pairing Murphy and McGraw. Need to watch this one! I also need to pull out my copy of BAD BOY and check it out.

Best wishes,

8:02 PM  

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