There Was a Crooked Man...

There Was a Crooked Man... ★★★

One of those subversive seventies films that thinks being subversive is enough to sustain a feature length runtime—naturally it isn't and a veteran director like Joseph L. Mankiewicz probably should have known better, though he was coming to the end of his career and luckily would go out on a high with the brilliant Sleuth.

Broadly speaking this is a western but it's more of a prison escape drama that just happens to take place in the old west. Being penned by David Newman and Robert Benton of Bonnie and Clyde acclaim, it has the same blistering cynicism that you'd expect but surprisingly little violence as it follows a bizarrely comedic tone that aims for satire but instead comes across as slapdash and tonally uneven. The ensemble cast assembled here is magnificent, Kirk Douglas being his usual charismatic, cocksure self, playing the mischievous robber Paris Pitman Jr. who manipulates his way into the affections of his fellow inmates and wardens, played by screen icons such as Henry Fonda, Burgess Meredith, Hume Cronyn and Bert Freed, plus a criminally underused Warren Oates, who most likely could have carried the film on his own if given the chance.

Despite being visually flat, overlong and unruly, there are some enjoyable moments, fine performances and the bawdy humour that does land is frequently quite funny, even if it is impossible to gauge exactly what the film's intentions are given its otherwise contemptuous outlook on human greed and corruptibility—there are no good guys or bad guys here, the trouble is that's hardly a groundbreaking idea at this point.

Criterion Channel.

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