With all the patience and understanding of a sidewalk salvationist confronting his first live sinner, the warden sets out to rehabilitate Pitman. He works and works and works until, one day . . . . but I'd better not say since that is, after all, the point of "There Was A Crooked Man. . ."
Whatever might be one's expectations of such a collaboration, they may, unfortunately, work against an easy appreciation of the completed movie. Although "There Was A Crooked Man. . . ." is rather low-keyed and takes its own sweet time to reveal itself, it is a movie of the sort of taste, intelligence and somewhat bitter humor I associate with Mr. Mankiewicz who, in real life, is one of America's most sophisticated, least folksy raconteurs, especially of stories about (the old Hollywood.
The content of "There was a crooked man" poem have a basis in history. The origin of this poem originates from the English Stuart history of King Charles 1. The crooked man is reputed to be the Scottish General Sir Alexander Leslie. The General signed a Covenant securing religious and political freedom for Scotland. The 'crooked stile' referred to in "There was a crooked man" being the border between England and Scotland. 'They all lived together in a little crooked house' refers to the fact that the English and Scots had at last come to an agreement. The words reflect the times when there was great animosity between the English and the Scots. The word crooked is pronounced as 'crookED' the emphasis being placed upon the 'ED' in the word. This was common in olde England and many references can be found in this type of pronunciation in the works of William Shakespeare (1564-1616).
"There Was a Crooked Man. . . ." is the veteran movie maker's first Western, but it is somehow illuminated by his awareness of the heritage of old Hollywood, epecially in the roles of Mr. Douglas and Mr. Fonda, who play variations on their mythical movie selves. Mr. Douglas is an outlaw who, for a change, really is as mean as he's supposed to be, and Mr. Fonda is the pure hero—with both feet in a clay pit.