Drive a Crooked Road (1954): Dreams on Malibu

Drive A Crooked Road (1934)

And everybody knows that you’re in trouble
Everybody knows what you’ve been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it’s coming apart
Take one last look at this Sacred Heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows

– Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows

Mickey Rooney is a withdrawn car mechanic and amateur racing driver who is seduced, and then conned into driving the souped-up getaway car in a bank robbery. Drive a Crooked Road takes its time in getting to the business, about as long as the femme-fatale takes to bring the shy loner out of his shell. He falls for her – and big time.

The actual heist is an anti-climax and really only sets the scene for the anti-hero’s destruction. The dame gets a conscience and so the carefully laid plans of the villains fall apart. When Rooney reaches the closing scene, two hoods are dead, and he is standing over the prostate femme by moonlight on the sands of Malibu, a smoking revolver in one hand, and the other stroking her hair.

A bleak scenario that has a hard and cynical edge, is rendered competently by a Columbia Pictures team. Not surprisingly Blake Edwards had a hand in the script with the assistance of director Richard Quine. Rooney is low key and carefully resists melodrama in a sympathetic portrayal. Minor 50s actress Dianne Foster is leggy, sultry, sweet, and repentant, by turn. A final descent into histrionics weakens the portrayal though.

The dénouement plays out in the shadow of a beach house on Malibu and harkens forward to the nuclear apocalypse that ended Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly the following year. Here the devastation is totally personal. The crushing of a less than average joe is brutal and undeserved. Fate and good ol’ American greed in cahoots take a man’s dreams and loneliness and twist them into a lose-lose no exit dilemma.

The hoods are distinctly middle-class. Dinner parties at the beach house and the conniving host cooking up a storm in the kitchen. It’s only a business proposition you see. Forget that a wise-cracking loathsome henchman mans the bar.