Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Prison walls do not a movie make

Cleveland Press January 21, 1971

"There was a Crooked Man" is playing at local theaters. Western; adults. In the cast are Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Burgess Meredith, Hume Cronyn. Running time: 125 minutes.

"There was a Crooked Man" is a cynical tale of greed whose cynicism is buried in heavy handed direction and slap-dash construction.

It is a rambling tale that rambles too long, too ,sluggishly and in too many directions for the impact that obviously was hoped for.

It is a mixed bag of humor ranging from subtle to obvious, from ribald to slapstick.

What saves it from being a total loss is an assemblage of actors who play well roles they have played before in better pictures.

THE PICTURE opens with a series of seemingly unrelated episodes. In each a man is caught after committing crimes which include armed robbery, murder and fraud. The guilty come together in a frontier prison out in the middle of a desert.

For the rest it is a prison drama which tries hard to bring humor out of brutality, filth and perversion.

When the predictable riot breaks out it happens in the mess hall with an almost equal amount of film devoted to food-in-the-face humor and unrelenting blood letting of prisoners, and guards committing murder and mayhem upon each other.

PRIME MOVER in "Crooked Man" is Kirk Douglas as t h e convicted thief who has stashed his loot of $500,000 in a hole filled with rattlesnakes just before his capture.

Warden, Martin Gabel offers Douglas a deal -- spilt the money and they both can get out of prison and go to Mexico. Before the deal can be closed Gabel is killed.

Douglas approaches the new warden, Henry Fonda, with the deal and gets put on the rock pile for his trouble. Fonda is an unrelenting moralist-no wine, no women, no deals. He also is a liberal reformer, a believer in convict rehabilitation.

TARGET FOR rehabilitation is Douglas, and Douglas - concerned with a great escape plan - becomes unofficial leader of the prisoners in such enterprises as construction of hospital and mess hall and the administering of baths.

Douglas' gang of picked escapees include a one-time informer, a young man accused of murder, a pair of aging homosexuals, a man who has spent almost his entire life in prison and a murderous Chinaman.

The breakout is a massive double-cross and what must have been considered a trick ending is no trick at all.

"Crooked Man" tries hard to be witty, succeeds only in being dim-witty and inept.