Crooked Trail

Crooked Trail (1936)

Genres - Western  |   Release Date - Jul 25, 1936 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 60 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Hans J. Wollstein

About halfway through this low-budget Western, Johnny Mack Brown marries leading lady Lucille Browne. For a genre in which the hero more often than not rides into the sunset, alone, this turn of event is truly startling. Why the redoubtable Brown would marry this particularly sullen prairie flower whom he has just met remains a mystery; but he does, and she continues to sulk, albeit prettily. Unlike her husband, however, Lucille is not fooled for a minute by John Merton, an escaped murderer whom Brown foolishly has made his partner. Merton, alas, is the little Western's second surprise. Usually cast as a Boss Villain or the chief henchman, Merton is here allowed to show new facets of his acting talents. Yes, he's still a villain of the blackest kind, but until the brutal finale, Merton and Mack Brown enjoy a kind of camaraderie that is very unusual in a low-budget oater like this. Their horsing around seems realistic and their friendship rings more true than the often belabored hero-comic sidekick combinations. It doesn't last, of course, but in these early scenes, John Merton is allowed to play a multi-faceted character for perhaps the only time in his long career in Westerns. Directed by S. Roy Luby, The Crooked Trail has the usual long stretches of inertia endemic to independently produced B-Westerns, but the acting is generally above par -- with special kudos to Mack Brown, Merton, and John Van Pelt as a no-nonsense prospector -- and George Plympton's screenplay at least attempted something a bit different.