snapshot: The Crooked Road (1965)

UK, Jugoslavia [sic] / 94 minutes / bw / Argo, Triglav, Trident, Seven Arts Dir: Don Chaffey Pr: David Henley Scr: J. Garrison, Don Chaffey Story: The Big Story (1957; vt The Crooked Road) by Morris L. West Cine: Stephen Dade Cast: Robert Ryan, Stewart Granger, Nadia Gray, Marius Goring, Catherine Woodville, George Coulouris, Robert Rietty, Milan Micić, Demeter Bitenc, Slobodan Dimitrijević, Murray Kash, Vladimir Bačić, Nikša Stefanini

Robert Ryan as Richard Ashley.

What’s this? A Robert Ryan movie I don’t know anything about? And he’s playing opposite Stewart Granger? And still I haven’t been aware of it? How could this possibly be?

Sign me up at once for a viewing . . .

In some unnamed Mediterranean or Baltic country, the populist candidate Vittorio, Duke of Orgagna (Granger), seems well set to win the upcoming elections. However, Vittorio is a crook—his hands are not just dirty but bloody—and US journalist Richard Ashley (Ryan) has the evidence to prove it. All he needs are some vital photostats, and he’s made arrangements to buy these from shifty petty crook Garafano (uncredited).

Nadia Gray as Cosima, Duchess of Orgagna.

There are complicating factors. Vittorio’s wife Cosima (Gray) was the love of Richard’s life, and her marriage to the duke has done nothing to dampen the fire between them. Vittorio, meanwhile, has thrown his secretary and mistress Elena (Woodville) into the mix, hoping she’ll be able to seduce Richard into revealing what his plans are for the story that’ll blow Vittorio’s reputation to smithereens just days before the election.

Vittorio, through his fiendishly loyal factotum Carlo (Coulouris), has the informant Garafano murdered and Richard framed for the killing. The local police chief, the baby-faced Captain Granfort (Rietty), is only too happy to go along with the framing.

George Coulouris as Carlo and Stewart Granger as his master, Victorio, Duke of Orgagna.

But Garafano didn’t have the photostats on him when he was murdered. In that case, Vittorio thinks, Richard must have them. So he persuades Granfort to release Richard into his, the duke’s, custody, and off go the principals to Vittorio’s private island . . .

Morris West, upon whose novel The Big Story (1957) this movie was based, seems to have been largely forgotten, yet he was a phenomenal bestseller in his day: according to Wikipedia, “Each new book he wrote after he became an established writer sold more than one million copies.” Probably his best-known novel remains his breakthrough book, The Shoes of the Fisherman (1963), about a fictional pope. The Big Story was an earlier effort, yet director Chaffey nevertheless seems overly reverential toward it in his screen adaptation. For The Crooked Road views like a movie that at every turn is itching to bust out as the thriller that I’m sure its source novel was, but is being held back out of some misplaced sense of “respect.”

Catherine Woodville as Elena.

Ryan, as the headstrong American journo, isn’t given a whole lot to stretch his abilities; he’s fine as always, but this isn’t one of his classic performances. Granger has an absolute ball as the unprincipled aristocrat—we tend to recall his action roles, but he was very good at cads too. Marius Goring’s role, as British agent Harlequin, is peripheral.

Robert Rietty as Captain Granfort.

The two lead female actors, Gray and Woodville, are appropriately beautiful; more importantly, they’re both given rather more to work with, because much of what tension the movie manages to generate derives from the fact that we—and Richard—can never be quite sure of their motivations: Is Cosima on his side or Vittorio’s? Is she helping him or betraying him? Is Elena an ally or an enemy? That sort of thing.

Marius Goring as Herlequin.

Completely unrelated (as the dates would indicate) to Phil Rosen’s 1940 US film noir The CROOKED ROAD, this is a rather lukewarm, lackluster affair that, I couldn’t help feeling, wastes a great cast. It’s certainly worth the time for Ryan or Granger completists, and I enjoyed it quite a lot on that basis, but otherwise, well, no wonder I was unfamiliar with it.

One line of Ryan’s dialogue struck me as spookily predictive of today’s political scene: “You hand a thief the top job, it’s bad politics. Whatever the excuse.”

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