|There Was a Crooked Man...|
|Directed by||Joseph L. Mankiewicz|
|Produced by||Joseph L. Mankiewicz|
|Written by||David Newman|
|Music by||Charles Strouse|
|Cinematography||Harry Stradling Jr.|
|Edited by||Gene Milford|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
There Was a Crooked Man... is a 1970 American western film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Kirk Douglas and Henry Fonda. It was the only western made by Mankiewicz. It was written by David Newman and Robert Benton, their first script after Bonnie and Clyde.
In 1883, Paris Pitman, Jr. has pulled off a $500,000 robbery and, having murdered his partners, is the only one who knows where the money is hidden. He is seen in a bordello and is captured, tried, convicted and sentenced to an Arizona penitentiary.
A corrupt warden, LeGoff, is willing to cut the prisoner a deal. He will let Pitman break out of jail for an even split of the half-million dollars. Pitman agrees, but the plan goes awry when LeGoff is murdered during an inmate uprising.
Former sheriff Woodward Lopeman becomes the new warden. Although they are enemies, he and Pitman work together to improve conditions at the prison. On a day the lieutenant governor visits, Pitman makes his move. He sparks a riot and manages to escape, but not before three inmates are killed, whereupon Pitman himself does away with two more partners.
The money has been hidden in a nest of rattlesnakes. Pitman heads for it, with Lopeman in hot pursuit. The money is his again when Pitman is suddenly bitten by a rattlesnake. By the time Lopeman comes across him, Pitman is already dead. Lopeman collects the money, as well as Pitman's body, and rides back to the prison. However, upon his arrival, he abruptly decides to leave the body and gallop off, absconding to Mexico with the money.
Location filming took place at Joshua Tree National Park, where an 1880s prison set spanning 4 acres was constructed over seven weeks at a cost of $300,000. Further shooting was done at Old Tucson Studios in Arizona and at Warner Bros.-Seven Arts studio in Burbank, California. During production, Mankiewicz suffered a slipped disc in his spine in an accident at his home and had to direct from a motorized wheelchair for a time.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times was generally positive: "Although There Was A Crooked Man... is rather low-keyed and takes its own sweet time to reveal itself, it is a movie of the sort of taste, intelligence and somewhat bitter humor I associate with Mr. Mankiewicz who, in real life, is one of America's most sophisticated, least folksy raconteurs, especially of stories about the old Hollywood." Variety wrote that the cast of stars, Newman and Benton script and director/producer Mankiewicz "are the formidable elements that don't jell in this picaresque tale set in a bleak western desert prison. It is the type of action drama in which neither the actors nor director appear to believe the script or characters, opt for the broadness euphemistically termed 'entertainment,' and which makes its best boxoffice in multiples exploiting the cast and elements." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 3 stars out of 4 and wrote, "While the film meanders between satire and straight melodrama it is unified by the wit of Mankiewicz." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times stated that the film "never develops enough straight-ahead power. It plays in the end like an interminable and very private shaggy dog story, whose embellishments are intermittently interesting but whose punch line can't carry the wait of buildup." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "a middling and rather sluggish prison melodrama" with a script that "has some of the crotchety and incongruous humor of 'Bonnie and Clyde,' but this time around Newman and Benton seem seriously deficient in their sympathy for their major characters." Tom Milne of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "Although There Was a Crooked Man ultimately confirms the old dictum that a Mankiewicz script is always better than his direction, the gap is not too severe in this case and there is a good deal of civilised enjoyment, both visual and verbal, to be had by the way."
The film currently holds a score of 78% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 9 reviews.