Director: Stuart Burge
Script: Reuben Ship
Cast: Norman Wisdom, Alfred Marks, Andrew Cruickshank, Reginald Beckwith, Susannah York, Ronald Fraser, Timothy Bateson, Jean Clarke
Running time: 107 minutes
When I was a kid I loved watching films, but mostly I loved watching comedies featuring the likes of Abbott and Costello, Will Hay, Laurel and Hardy, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and Norman Wisdom. Since we didn’t have a colour TV for ages, I assumed all films were black and white so I’ve never had any of the ‘it must be in colour or I’m not watching it’ snobbery that you sometimes get from the younger generations.
Hailed as one of Norman Wisdom’s finest films, There was a crooked man was one of his movies that I didn’t recall having seen before, hence I was interested in giving it a whirl. Adapted from ‘The Golden Legend of Schultz’ by James Bridie, …Crooked Man is one of Wisdom’s more serious films, with him refraining – most of the time – from his oft frequent gurning, and childish buffoonery, that he’s more regularly associated with. And that’s an advantage in this film, which sees Wisdom playing Davey Cooper, a hard on his luck, and very naïve, ex-military explosives expert, who is rescued from the streets by an old friend, who also happens to belong to a gang of robbers. They twist Cooper’s arm into helping them with a jewellery robbery, and soon after he joins the gang full-time, even helping to organise some of the raids.
However, his luck runs out, again, when he’s caught red-handed in a bank vault, after entering it via a hospital’s operation room floor, which he drilled through. The rest of the gang get way, and he’s sent to prison for several years, during which time he becomes institutionalised and starts to enjoy ‘old chokey’. He’s let out two years early, for good behaviour, and goes to work at a factory, but soon finds the so-called legitimate system that he’s been sent to work in is just as corrupt as the criminal one he was formerly a part of. After his boss tries to frame him for something he didn’t do, he decides to enlist the help of his old criminal gang to take on the establishment and scam the scammers.
There was a crooked man is a great British movie that fans of vintage comedy will enjoy enormously. Co-starring some excellent actors, including Susannah York and Alfred Marks, the film obviously had a reasonable budget since quite a bit of it seems to have been shot on location. The picture and sound quality are pretty good, considering the age of the film, although there is some visible print damage near to what would have been the reel changes.
I’ve always felt there was a naïve kind of charm to Wisdom, so the character he plays here is perfect for him, and he doesn’t disappoint with his physical comedy routines either, which preceded the likes of Mr Bean and Some Mothers do have ‘em in their likeable goofiness. Check out the bike-riding scene in the house as a good example of classic Wisdom antics. I think the only thing that lets Wisdom’s performance down is the dodgy American accent he attempts later on in the film as part of the scam.
Another feature of the film is the musical score, which really suits what’s going on, on screen; excellent stuff. Plus, it’s always interesting to see the world that was; in this case back in the late fifties and early 1960s.
If you’ve never watched a Norman Wisdom film before this is an excellent one to begin your initiation into his oeuvre, and it kind of explains why he was so popular in Communist countries – the small ordinary bloke taking on the capitalist overlords… Plus, why wouldn’t you want to watch a film that features Charlie Chaplin’s ‘favourite clown’?
Network are distributing There was a crooked man on DVD and Blu-ray. Special features include:
An information booklet by Norman Wisdom expert Richard Dacre. This wasn’t sent to me to review so I can’t comment on the quality.
An image gallery, with 62 images from the film, including several posters, lobby cards, and detailed press information.