There Was A Crooked Man… (Blu-ray Review)

Warner Archive Collection continues its seemingly effortless crusade to do some of the finest restoration on classic cinema of all eras and genres and bring it to Blu-ray for the first time month in and month out. Plenty of westerns of all types have been given their due in this line. A few of them come this month of June. One of which is 1970’s There Was  Crooked Man… starring Kirk Douglas. Considering the big cast of Douglas, Henry Fonda, Burgess Meredith, Lee Grant, Warren Oates, Michael Blodgett, John Randolph paired with it being directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; I’m surprised it took this long to make its way to the format. Nonetheless, it made its debut on June 8th. You can order yourself a copy today using the paid Amazon Associates link following the review.


After a botched heist, Wild West bandit Paris Pitman Jr. (Kirk Douglas) hides his newly stolen money where no one will find it, then loses his entire gang in a blaze of bullets before being captured by the law and given a lengthy sentence in a desert jail. Paris believes that he can buy his way out of his predicament by offering some cash to the guards, but the upstanding Sheriff Lopeman (Henry Fonda) makes sure his men remain honest. Running out of options, Paris begins plotting a jailbreak.

This would be the second to last film ever directed by the late Joseph Mankiewicz. His western prison tale has a bit of its own flavor for better or worse and is one that really allows his cast a sense of freedom and play with every scene. While visually not quite the marvel, there are moments where a shot will hit that has you just feeling like “hot damn” that looked great. Much of the film aims for more pedestrian camera angles and movements, but when it comes time to make a mark, it truly does.

There Was a Crooked Man… isn’t the first prison film of its kind, but I’m not sure if it isn’t the first old west set prison film. The film seems to want to tap into what made The Great Escape tick in terms of finding itself to be a caper and assembling a talented cast of men to help paint the picture. Kirk Douglas is having a ball in the film, able to flail his arms and really stretch from scene to scene to be an aggressor to any superior while being the point man for the locked up prisoners. Henry Fonda taps into a more dramatic, troubled hero of the old west with good grandeur. Really stealing the show is Burgess Meredith who gives quite a stirring performance and a character that really was probably my favorite when watching it.

One of the weaker points in the film comes from the score. Its doesn’t feel a style of music fit for a western or that of one telling such a story as this. The opening credits of the film are quite good with the art and music combined, but the live action footage doesn’t seem to jibe all too well. Its a sound that takes away any sort of gravitas and makes the film feel like its just playing around. Perhaps I’m off on this, but it sorta took away a sense of urgency or taking the film more seriously from it.

There Was A Crooked Man… has strands of things you’d see later on in movies like The Shawhank Redemption among the more popular. Its a movie that’s fun to watch its cast tear up the screen together and ultimately has a pretty solid story, it just really needed to find proper tone and crack down on its pacing a bit to take it to another level.


Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: No details were provided regarding the transfer for There Was A Crooked Man… in its Blu-ray debut. However, it looks pretty dang awesome and I’d imagine it was a 2K transfer. The film looks really open and spacious. It has terrific detail, color saturation and a nice sharp picture with a good layer of grain intact.

Depth:  Depth of field is quite good here, as any old west movie lends itself to be. The exteriors of the prison provide a nice scale of what’s inside and the relation to the endless desert that surrounds. Movements are natural and cinematic with no motion distortion issues present.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and pretty close to natural. No issues regarding details being lost in darkness or dark surfaces and fabrics. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors are on the side of a more “normal” direction like browns and grays, but there are some garments and wall paintings that provide colors that give a good pop.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish. Facial features and textures are terrific and visible from any reasonable distance in the frame.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.


Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: There Was A Crooked Man… has a terrifically restored mono track that is quite clean and has no real analog hiss element to it. There’s good balancing in the vocals, music and effects on display in the film. For a little mono track, its pretty engaging and leaves a good impact.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp. They feel nice and pronounced while always being a part of their respective environments.


Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3:02)

On Location With “There Was A Crooked Man…” (SD, 10:25) – A set visit featurette, with intense narration, interviews and a really cool opening that shows what it was like to drive out to the set in the desert.


There was a pretty solid little influential western inside of There Was a Crooked Man…, warts and all. Warner Archive Collection continues delivering some of the best in video and audio restoration on Blu-ray that makes it look like such a breeze for them to turn out. This one even has a nifty little featurette from when the film was being made to include. Those who are going to collect this know who you are, others may way to check it out via a rental first.

This is a paid Amazon Associates link


Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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