The Crooked Way (1949): John Alton’s L.A.

In the 1949 United Artists release The Crooked Way (90 mins) a WW2 vet with amnesia returns to Los Angeles to find himself. Turns out his past is less than savory. A stolid performance by John Payne as the vet is limiting, but the no-nonsense screenplay avoids melodrama and sustains interest to a violently baroque shootout at the end. Solid cameos by Sonny Tufts as a vindictive gang boss and the ever-worthy Percy Helton as a consumptive small-time hood add value. Minor actress Ellen Drew as the wife the vet didn’t know he had, delivers a great portrayal worthy of Ida Lapino or Claire Trevor – a woman made hard and vengeful by past mistreatment softens into a loyal partner and lover.

But the real star is DP John Alton who delivers expressive noir visuals that are breathtaking and so accomplished they underpin the direction of Robert Florey.

Here is Alton’s Los Angeles:



5 thoughts on “The Crooked Way (1949): John Alton’s L.A.”

  1. “But the real star is DP John Alton who delivers expressive noir visuals that are breathtaking and so accomplished they underpin the direction of Robert Florey.”

    I have been ravished by John Alton’s photography over the past few years during numerous visits to Manhattan festivals that featured his incomparable work, mainly in film noirs that are literally defined by his participation. Most notable in this great artist’s filmography are RAW DEAL, THEY WALKED BY NIGHT, BORDER INCIDENT, REIGN OF TERROR and DEVIL’S DOORWAY, though there are several others including the film you effusively promote here that would stand tall in a prolific career and long life that nearly reached his 95th year. Of course this dazzling screen cap display speaks more than any words could. Robert Florey, who nearly directed FRANKENSTEIN, worked with cinematographer Karl Freund, turning the film into a textbook example of German Expressionism, and Florey decades later brought magnificent visual distinction to what was the scariest episode of them all in BORIS KARLOFF’S THRILLER, “The Incredible Dr. Markeson.” He also helmed “Moonstone” in THE OUTER LIMITS. Of course, the amnesia theme is a popular one in noir, and other features that immediately come to mind include STREET OF CHANCE adapted from Woolrich, SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT, BLACK ANGEL, THE DARK PAST and SPELLBOUND. Ellen Drew is a talented and relatively under appreciated actress, whose further credits includes the role of Thea in Val Lewton’s unforgettable ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945)

    Superlative post Tony!


  2. I erred in what I said AFTER mentioning that Florey NEARLY directed FRANKENSTEIN. The film that he worked on with Karl Freund, which I accidentally left off the comment was THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE.


  3. This Film is a gem. Alton’s cinematography is extremely dark and claustrophobic and fits the subject matter well, a feast for Noir eyes with a nice juxtaposition of studio set & seedy location shots that make a fine example of the noir aesthetic. The large and varied cast actually enhances the amnesia angle to the story since minor character actors flicker for a few moments of screen time out of the shadows and then are gone and just like Eddie, you don’t know whether they are a part of Eddie’s past life or not. Payne plays a convincing amnesia victim, Drew is good as his ex wife, but Sonny Tufts as the mob boss is excellent. The Geneon DVD is cheap, adequate but featureless, still a 9/10


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