There Was a Crooked Man


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)


There Was a Crooked Man is a Western made at the end of the period when Westerns ruled the earth. It stars Henry Fonda and Kirk Douglas, and features just about every great character actor available in 1969: Lee Grant, Martin Gabel, Victor French, Arthur O'Connell, Burgess Meredith, Hume Cronyn, John Randolph, Warren Oates, and the Skipper from Gilligan's Island. Even if it were not a any good at all, watching it would be filled with nostalgic pleasure  for any baby boomer who remembers the pictures and stars that were so popular back in the day.

Like me.

Ya know, there are some days when it is really fun to run my little movie blog. Doing so gave me the opportunity and motive to see Crooked Man. I have never seen this film before and have always planned to get around to it some day.  It turned out to be not just a nostalgia trip, but a pretty good flick in its own right, filled with plenty of cool-ass plot twists from start to finish.

Kirk Douglas plays a robber with $500,000 hidden somewhere on the outside while he does a 10-year stretch in a woebegone federal prison which seems to be lost somewhere in the remotest reaches of the unforgiving Southwestern desert. Kirk's character is a charming, highly intelligent rogue and a natural-born leader who soon pulls a McMurphy in the prison and becomes a favorite of the men and the warden, all while secretly scheming to escape. Many key aspects of his plan are hidden from the audience, and the final revelations subvert our expectations. We want to like Kirk Douglas, and we're familiar with his usual screen persona, so we expect that his character will eventually do the right thing by the men who helped him escape, and that he himself will meet some kind of acceptable fate, whether his plan succeeds or not. The authors and director are aware of our expectations and use them to make the plot more interesting and surprising. Although the film has many enjoyable elements, the casting of Douglas turned out to be the factor most necessary to make the whole project work. The character has to con the audience just as convincingly as he cons everyone else, and therefore the part needed to be filled by someone we can feel comfortable rooting for, someone we trust to be an honorable man beneath his cocky exterior. With a Jack Palance in the lead, we would expect him to be utterly evil from the outset, and would therefore anticipate the kind of behavior which is much more cinematic when it is utterly unexpected.

Screenwriters David Newman and Robert Benton (Bonnie and Clyde) and director Joe Mankiewicz felt that they never found the right blend of satire and action, but seen four decades later, Crooked Man seems like a very modern and entertaining film.

Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Considered too quirky in its time, it now seems like top-notch genre fare.



* trailer

* Vintage featurette "On Location with There Was a Crooked Manů"







100 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)


7.1 IMDB summary (of 10)


Unavailable, but Amazon's review says: "Shelved for more than a year and released as an un-holiday-like afterthought at Christmas 1970, this sardonic comedy-cum-Western-cum-prison movie immediately dropped off the radar and has scarcely been heard of since."



Kirk Douglas also does two rear nude scenes and there are more male behinds visible in a group bath scene among the male prisoners.

There were three female nude scenes in this film, but one of them seems to have disappeared over the years.

The gorgeous Pamela Hensley (later Princess Ardala on Buck Rogers) was only 19 or 20 when she performed a topless scene

Jeanne Cooper showed a well-weathered breast as a well-weathered whore.

The third scene has not been included in the DVD or VHS versions of this film. At one point in the film a bunch of high muck-a-mucks arrive at the prison to dedicate a new mess hall built by the prisoners. Kirk's plan involves engineering a prison riot and mass escape as a decoy for the real escape he plans to accomplish elsewhere. Barbara Rhodes plays a famous actress who comes to the dedication ceremony to recite a poem. As the prisoners begin to riot, they rip off her clothing. In the original version she was seen running naked outside the prison walls. In the DVD version she shows some cleavage inside the prison while still half-dressed, but her subsequent nudity has disappeared. We do have a still from the missing scene.