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B-Western star Audie Murphy plays Joe Maybe, an outlaw who assumes the identity of the U.S. Marshal pursuing him while planning to rob the local bank in Ride a Crooked Trail (1958). However, when he falls under the watchful eye of Judge Kyle (Walter Matthau) and the spell of the beautiful Tessa (Gia Scala), he is forced into temporary respectability. It's not long before he must decide between steering a straight course or returning to his outlaw ways.
Ride a Crooked Trail is a typical, if above average, vehicle for Audie Murphy, the distinguished World War II hero who famously made it in Hollywood after his personal story caught the interest of actor James Cagney. Even having the distinction of being the most decorated soldier in American history, however, couldn't calm Murphy's nerves when it came to kissing his lovely co-star, Gia Scala. Murphy was apprehensive because he and Scala had never met prior to the film shoot. Looking at the pair's chemistry onscreen, however, it's clear that they managed to find some common ground.
While you would never know it watching Gia Scala's performance, the actress was going through a difficult time in her personal life at the time. In the middle of filming, she learned that her mother, with whom she was very close, was dying of cancer and had only three months to live. A distraught Gia was arrested the day after she learned the news when she was involved in a minor car accident caused by her drinking. It was the first of several drunk driving incidents for Gia throughout her life. It also marked the beginning of a very dark period for the troubled Gia, who was depressed enough to attempt suicide on more than one occasion. Never getting over her mother's death, she succeeded in taking her own life on April 30, 1972 when she died at the age of 38 from an overdose of sleeping pills and alcohol.
Walter Matthau, in one of his early film roles, makes the most of his character part as the tough, hard-drinking Judge Kyle. He would follow this with a major role in the WWII service comedy, Onionhead (1958), which proved he was even better suited for comedic parts. Henry Silva, a later "Rat Pack" buddy of Frank Sinatra, also appears in the role of Teeler; Silva, with his exotic looks and Puerto Rican heritage, was often cast in various ethnic parts throughout his career, playing everything from an Amazon Indian warrior (Green Mansions ) to a Korean spy (The Manchurian Candidate ).
Ride a Crooked Trail was one of nearly two dozen westerns Audie Murphy made for Universal. Shot mostly on the Universal backlot, the film also features some striking location scenery shot at the Janss Conejo Ranch in Thousand Oaks, California. It was also used in such classics as Wuthering Heights (1939) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).
Producer: Howard Pine
Director: Jesse Hibbs
Screenplay: George Bruce (story), Borden Chase
Cinematography: Harold Lipstein
Film Editing: Edward Curtiss
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen, Bill Newberry
Music: Henry Mancini
Cast: Audie Murphy (Joe Maybe), Gia Scala (Tessa Milotte), Walter Matthau (Judge Kyle), Henry Silva (Teeler), Joanna Cook Moore (Little Brandy), Eddie Little (Jimmy).
by Andrea Passafiume