Drive a Crooked Road
Six tough, no-nonsense noirs from six of the genre’s toughest, no-nonsense directors: Budd Boetticher’s Escape in the Fog, in which a nurse and a war veteran take on Nazi spies in San Francisco; Joseph H Lewis’ The Undercover Man, inspired by the real-life case against Al Capone; Richard Quine’s Drive a Crooked Road, which finds Mickey Rooney moving away from comedies and musicals to a tougher persona; Phil Karlson’s 5 Against the House, starring Kim Novak as a nightclub singer embroiled in a casino heist; Vincent Sherman’s The Garment Jungle, from which Kiss Me Deadly director Robert Aldrich was famously fired; and Don Siegel’s police procedural The Lineup, based on the radio and television series, and as brutal a film as he ever made.
All six films are presented for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK, with The Undercover Man and Drive a Crooked Road making their world Blu-ray premieres. This stunning collection also boasts a 120-page book, and is strictly limited to 6,000 numbered units.
The third single-layer disc in Indicator’s Columbia Noir #1 box set presents Richard Quine’s Drive a Crooked Road, presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is encoded here at 1080p/24hz high-defintion.
The notes indicate the presentation was sourced from a “high-definition re-master” supplied by Sony, not a new 2K restoration like some of the other films in the set. I let my expectations slide a little because this usually means we’re getting an older master that will be dated in some respects, yet much to my surprise (and delight!) there was no need to lower those expectations. While it may be an older master it’s not obvious in any way and the image does at least pass as a more recent scan and/or restoration. The image is incredibly sharp, delivering film grain and finer details like there was little-to-no effort to it. It has such a wonderful filmic texture as well, and it keeps it up throughout.
I’m not sure what film elements were scanned for the restoration (if I was told the negative I wouldn’t be surprised, though I’m going to guess it’s a generation off of that) but whatever was used it's all in incredible shape, and the restoration work has cleaned up a lot, with only a few blemishes and scratches remaining. Contrast also looks superb and the grays blend nicely. Add on the superb encode (no artifacts of note ever pop up) and you have a real stunner of a presentation and another great surprise.
The lossless PCM soundtrack holds up incredibly well itself. There can be some background noise but it’s easy to ignore and both music and dialogue sound sharp without coming off harsh. Fidelity also ends up being decent.
Like the other films in the set, Drive a Crooked Road comes with an audio commentary, this one featuring Nick Pinkerton. It’s an enjoyable examination of the film, it’s noir conventions, and how those same conventions are used in future noir and noir-inspired films (not surprisingly, David Lynch’s Lost Highway comes up). I also liked his discussion about Rooney, his career, and his performance in this film. But the track might be at its best when Pinkerton talks about director Richard Quine’s and writer Blake Edwards’ working relationship, as well as familiar elements from this film that would appear in Edwards’ future films. Admittedly Pinkerton isn’t exuding much energy throughout the track, but he packs in enough and covers some engaging topics, making this one worthwhile.
Following that is another audio feature that plays over the film: an 82-minute interview with actor Mickey Rooney conducted for The Guardian by Tony Sloman at the National Film Theatre, London, in 1988. As always Rooney is a “character” and he keeps the whole thing very entertaining, thanks mostly to little segues away from whatever topic they’re covering. The conversation aims to cover his career as a whole, talking about his child acting, comedy work and then how he worked to widen his acting chops with dramatic turns (he mentions Quine and Drive a Crooked Road, but doesn’t get into too much detail about the film). But the best (and funniest) moments are where he reflects on bad decisions, whether personal (like failed marriages) or career related. For the latter he talks about the film choices he regrets, like Breakfast at Tiffany’s (he regrets it but he admits he needed the money then) and It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which he calls “one of the worst comedies in the world.” He also talks about his issues with the media (he can get especially irate during these portions) and talks about his joy in working with directors like John Frankenheimer. Rooney does have a tendency to exaggerate and take credit for a lot of things, whether it be around films he worked on or things you would never imagine him being tied to (like Mickey Mouse), and while he makes some claims here I can’t really confirm (and question to a degree) it’s still an absolute delight of an interview, and all of that just adds to the charm of it.
Indicator then reuses a Martin Scorsese introduction that appeared with the film on a previous Sony box set; running two-minutes the director talks about Rooney’s performance and the Quine/Edwards partnership. This is then followed by the film’s original trailer and a short image gallery featuring some productions photos, images from a promotional catalogue for the film (with zoomed-in photos) and a handful of posters.
You can then find a couple of shorts. First is the promotional 10-minute short Screen Snapshots: Mickey Rooney, Then and Now. This was part of a series of newsreels produced by Columbia and used to promote their stars; Rooney apparently had a number of films coming up (including Drive a Crooked Road) and Columbia used this to sell him. Basically, it’s a skit with Rooney coming in and then reflecting on his past child work (though through an older Screen Snapshots reel with the much younger Rooney), while also showing off his comic chops. Admittedly there isn’t much to be learned from the short and has nothing to do with the film on the disc, but it’s still a fascinating archival piece.
The second short ends up being aThree Stooges one, Stooges shorts also appearing on the other discs in the set. The film found on this disc is High as a Kite, running about 17-minutes. The Stooges shorts found on the discs are loosely tied to the films they share the disc with (and I mean loosely), and in this case the Stooges are mechanics, just like the protagonist of Drive a Crooked Road. Working on a “flying field somewhere in somewhere,” the three mechanics (Larry, Moe, and Curly) are tasked with fixing an officer’s car, only to fail (of course) thanks to a number of mishaps (Moe getting his head stuck in a pipe for starters), before—after a series of loosely linked incidents—finding themselves overseas facing off Nazis. Things work out, though it’s not because they were trying (of course). Although these shorts are random inclusions I love that they’re here and revisiting them (after a couple of decades at least) is quite a bit of fun. I’m also pleased to see that, like the others so far, this short has been meticulously restored and it looks absolutely incredible.
A few of extras have little to nothing to do with the main feature, but the related content is solid and all of the material was quite a bit of fun to go through. One of the stronger set of features in the set.
Another solid entry in the set, delivering a superb look presentation and a fun set of features.