Sunday, September 12, 2010

There Was a Crooked Man (CBS-TV “Studio One,” 1950)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Charles and I had a late night and I squeezed in a movie — actually a 1950 Studio One TV episode called “There Was a Crooked Man,” an evocative title that was easily the best thing about this surprisingly dull piece. The title was also used for a 1970 Western feature directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, starring Kirk Douglas and Henry Fonda, which I haven’t seen but which Leonard Maltin describes as a “bawdy, entertaining Western-comedy-prison film with Douglas as cocky inmate at territorial prison c. 1883 who matches wits with progressive warden Fonda towards one goal: escape.” That plot has nothing to do with the story of this “There Was a Crooked Man,” first aired on June 19, 1950 (episode 41 of the series’ second season — today no show outside of news programs ever gets near 41 episodes in a single season!), is an adaptation by Charles Monroe of a story by Kelly Roos about the residents of a New York City boarding house — which seems a bit retro that late, especially since at least two of the women living there are married and their husbands return from overseas during the course of the story — and it’s a dull domestic comedy with a dull murder mystery grafted on (this was in the Mill Creek Entertainment 50-film Dark Crimes DVD box but barely qualified) in which the victim is Otis Block (Robert Emhardt), a resident in a wheelchair (he lives on the second floor and, since the building has no elevator, has to be carried down when meals are served and then carried back up), and the killer — as we figure out about an act before the characters do — is Professor Simons (Richard Purdy), who’s “outed” as the likely killer when we see him fooling around with his beard in a way that reveals that it’s fake.

The leads are Haila Troy (Virginia Gilmore) and her recently returned servicemember husband, Jeff Troy (Robert Sterling, top-billed), and there’s an interesting red herring in the vicious little meanie Paul Collins (Charles Korvin), whom we learn is an S.O.B. when he kicks the boarding-house cat just for the sick fun of it (more than once!). The motive has something to do with what would now be called an “affinity scam” the professor and some alumni of Columbia University were running on fellow alumni, hitting them up for handouts in the name of their old college ties — though it was hard for me to figure out what was supposed to have been illegal about that and why someone would kill rather than risk having that exposed. It was such a dull TV episode the period Westinghouse commercials featuring Betty Furness actually seemed like a relief from the boredom of the show, and early on I spotted an intriguing error: the phony professor is supposed to have got a drawing on his back, having sat outside and leaned against the building where a boy had drawn a face — only the drawing on the professor’s coat faces the same way as the drawing on the wall (it should be a mirror image).