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Walk a Crooked Mile

Walk a Crooked Mile(1948)

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teaser Walk a Crooked Mile (1948)

Someone at the Lakeview Laboratory of Nuclear Physics in Southern California is stealing top secret information on the atom bomb project in development. The FBI agent assigned to the case is murdered before he can reveal the key suspects, forcing the law enforcement agency to call in their senior agent Daniel O'Hara (Dennis O'Keefe) and Philip Grayson (Louis Hayward), an emissary from Scotland Yard who has been working on a different aspect of the same case. Grayson goes undercover, posing as an employee in a laundry where the manager is suspected of aiding the spies. As the two agents get closer to busting up the spy ring, their lives are endangered as they are stalked by an underground network of enemy agents.

Made at a time in America when the House Un-American Activities Committee was investigating the government and Hollywood for communist infiltrators, Walk a Crooked Mile (1948) presents an unnerving scenario featuring Russian spies and a major security breach within a top secret U.S. facility that played to the paranoia of audiences at the time. A low-budget programmer helmed by Gordon Douglas, who was still honing his craft at Warner Bros. as a B-movie workhorse, this brisk, efficient little entertainment not only worked as morale-building propaganda for the FBI and Scotland Yard but also had an immediacy that earlier crime dramas lacked due to its semi-documentary style.

The film that served as the prototype for Walk a Crooked Mile, Walk East on Beacon [1952], Down Three Dark Streets [1954] and many others like them was Henry Hathaway's trendsetting The House on 92nd Street [1945] which was based on a true story and documented the efforts of some FBI agents to apprehend a ring of Nazi spies intent on stealing the A-bomb formula. Shot on the real New York City locations where the events occurred, The House on 92nd Street also used a voiceover narration by Reed Hadley which gives the movie the feel of an official FBI report. Douglas would ape this same formula expertly for Walk a Crooked Mile, even using Reed Hadley again as the narrator and shooting on actual San Francisco locations. You'll also notice Raymond Burr in a minor supporting role. In this early phase of his career he was quickly becoming typecast as the heavy in such film noirs as Desperate [1947], Raw Deal [1948] and Pitfall [1948].

Walk a Crooked Mile was an enjoyable, unpretentious time-filler for its intended audience though some critics expressed concern over the film's premise. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times noted, "we have coolly accepted the fact that the latest beetle-browed villains of the movies are Russian spies. But it does seem a little alarming that the screen should now come forth with dark and disturbing reflections upon our own atomic men. And, in view of the current agitation over the attempted "purge" of scientists, it seems odd that the FBI should warrant the use of its name in such a film - especially a film that is so specious and irresponsible as this little job. No use to speak of the action or the acting. It's strictly routine. But the plot is deliberately sensational." Variety, on the other hand, reported more favorably on Walk a Crooked Mile and its view reflected the majority consensus: "George Bruce has loaded his script with nifty twists that add an air of reality to the meller doings in the Bertram Millhauser story. Dialog is good and situations believably developed, even the highly contrived melodramatic finale."

Producer: Edward Small, Grant Whytock
Director: Gordon Douglas
Screenplay: George Bruce, Bertram Millhauser
Cinematography: Edward Colman, George Robinson
Art Direction: Rudolph Sternad
Music: Paul Sawtell
Film Editing: James E. Newcom
Cast: Louis Hayward (Philip Scotty Grayson), Dennis O'Keefe (Daniel F. O'Hara), Louise Allbritton (Dr. Toni Neva), Carl Esmond (Dr. Ritter von Stolb), Onslow Stevens (Igor Braun), Raymond Burr (Krebs).

by Jeff Stafford

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