Thursday, May 22, 2014

What makes a movie memorable?

There are movies that I haven't seen for years, but because of their quality or originality are highly memorable. Then there are B movies that all run together, with the feeling that you've seen one before when you haven't, or the realization only halfway through that this is one you've already seen. And then there are the movies that probably ought to be relatively fresh from having seen not too long ago, but aren't. An example for me of this last category is The Crooked Way, which is showing up tomorrow afternoon at 3:45 PM on TCM.

TCM is running The Crooked Way as part of a several film salute to John Payne, whose birthday is coming up next week. Here, he plays Eddie Rice, whom we first see at an Army hospital up in San Francisco. He's healed enough from his physical wounds that he can go back to living life, except for one problem. He got amnesia in the service, and doesn't know what he did in his life before the service. Still, the Army sends him back to Los Angeles, presumably because that's where he enlisted -- certainly the Army has a service record on him. Besides, if he goes back there there's a better chance that people from his pre-war life will see him and know who he is. They're right, of course, but not in the way they intended.

Rice goes back to Los Angeles, and when he gets out at the train station, he's met by a pair of men looking to take him for a ride. They take him to the police station, as they're cops, and apparently believe they've got an Eddie Riccardi, who before the war was part of a criminal gang. Perhaps he can lead them to the other people in that gang. Not that Eddie as he now is would recognize them. He quickly gets picked up by a woman who seems to know him, but all she does is call up some guy named Vince Alexander (Sonny Tufts), and tells him that she knows where Riccardi is. Sonny has some guys pay Eddie a visit, and they beat him up. Nice welcome.

The reason why Vince wanted to see Eddie, and why he had Eddie beaten up, is that the two were involved in a deal gone bad before the war. Eddie was culpable in that deal, but left town by joining the Army, which left Vince in the lurch. Vince wants Eddie out of Los Angeles. At least now Eddie has some leads. But it's going to get worse for him. When he goes to meet the woman who turned him in to Vince, now a nightclub singer named Nina (Ellen Drew), he finds that she used to be his wife! But she divorced him, and is working for Vince, who has turned into one of the meaner gangsters in the area.

It goes on like this, unfortunately not too memorably. Eddie eventually gets the chance to redeem himself, and perhaps Nina, who when we first see her hates Eddie, might have a change of heart towards him. I think part of the problem with The Crooked Way might be that it reminds me of Somewhere in the Night, which came out a few years earlier. It wasn't terrible, but obviously it wasn't great or I'd have a better memory of it. Still, noir fans will probably enjoy it, especially since John Payne would go on to make some really entertaining noirs, notably Kansas City Confidential and 99 River Street. As far as I can tell, The Crooked Way doesn't seem to be available on DVD.

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