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There Was a Crooked Man

By Richard T. Jameson

Shelved for more than a year and released as an un-holiday-like afterthought at Christmas 1970, this sardonic comedy-cum-Western-cum-prison movie immediately dropped off the radar and has scarcely been heard of since. We can understand that. By their own admission, hotshot screenwriters David Newman and Robert Benton (just off Bonnie and Clyde) and veteran director Joe Mankiewicz (more typically associated with the likes of All About Eve) never found the right focus for their mix of sociopolitical satire, frontier bawdiness, and brutal Western action. Still, the very unevenness makes for fascinating tensions, and the myriad insights and moods created by a cast comprising Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Hume Cronyn, John Randolph, Warren Oates, and Burgess Meredith more than repay a visit.

Douglas plays one of those charming bastards at which he excelled--here, Paris Pittman Jr., a bandit capable of seducing virtually anyone into doing his will. Pittman has a fortune in gold stashed somewhere. Inconveniently, he himself has been stashed in the territorial penitentiary in the middle of the desert, so he begins conniving to escape. This means betraying everyone in range, including the liberal-minded warden (Fonda) who's determined to redeem him. The stellar adversaries are ideally cast, with Fonda cannily subverting his own image (as he recently had in Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West). Cronyn and Randolph are priceless as "an old married couple," and Oates is heartbreaking as a congenital loner who thinks that, in Paris Pittman, he has at last found a friend.

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FILM FACTS

VHS unavailableBuy this DVD from Amazon.com! (Click here!)Soundtrack unavailable at Amazon.com - try eBay (see links below)Rated RNot on an American Film Institute 100 list

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Stars: Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Hume Cronyn, Warren Oates, Burgess Meredith, John Randolph, Michael Blodgett, Arthur O'Connell, Martin Gabel, Alan Hale Jr., Victor French, Barbara Rhoades, Lee Grant

Released: December 25, 1970

Availability: DVD


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