‘Drive a Crooked Road’ or — The Edwards Touch?
In ‘Drive a Crooked Road’ (1954) Mickey Rooney plays Eddie, auto mechanic and part-time race car driver. Eddie sure can drive but judging by the trophies proudly on display in his room it appears he’ll always be a 2nd place man. He might dream of racing in Europe, even in a Grand Prix, but there’s the feeling this could be as far as Eddie will go in life.
That is until two strangers, Steve and Harold, catch Eddie racing and figure Eddie could be exactly the man they need. Meanwhile Eddie has come under the spell of a beautiful woman called Barbara who seems to know Steve and Harold and as Eddie and Barbara become close so Barbara gently nudges Eddie into maybe listening to a proposition Steve has for Eddie. It could provide Eddie with the cash he needs to race in Europe.
It turns out the proposition is to drive the getaway car for a bank job. They need someone fast, someone who can drive a treacherous road in twenty minutes to escape the inevitable police road block. They also need a driver who can modify the getaway car, strip it down and soup it up to beat the roadblock in time. Eddie is their guy and not just because he’s got the skill but because Barbara has her hooks in him and a lonely guy like Eddie isn’t going to wriggle off. The only question is will Eddie pull off the job before he realises he’s being played?
So ‘Drive a Crooked Road’ is your typical “lonely guy manipulated by a beautiful woman into doing something illegal” thriller. Unlike the road Eddie has to drive, this plot contains few unexpected corners as we pretty much know what’s ahead.
What elevates all this into something special though is a strong performance by Rooney, some effective direction by Richard Quine but, most noticeably, Blake Edwards’ script. In fact, ‘Drive a Crooked Road’ feels more a Blake Edwards movie than anything else, and that includes being either a noir or a thriller.
So many of Edwards’ fingerprints and quirks are contained here: there’s his obsession with Malibu as a location, gorgeous beach houses (as seen in his ‘10’ and ‘S.O.B.’), dry humour, parties and a diminutive central character (Mickey Rooney/Dudley Moore) punching above his weight in the romance department. The set design is modern and sophisticated rather than oppressive and shadowy and the robbers, Steve and Harold, are too urbane to be thugs and would appear more at home at a Hollywood cocktail party swapping witticisms.
All this gives ‘Drive a Crooked Road’ an unmistakable Edwards vibe, his script effortlessly switching from funny to touching, tender to scheming, highlighting how devious interpersonal dynamics between the sexes can be.
The robbery itself is well handled with Eddie’s racing skill nicely demonstrated in an exciting driving sequence. In fact, my only complaint was that it wasn’t long enough as there’s the potential here for a seriously impressive set-piece. Still, what is here is strong and directed with gusto, even if it does all lead to the inevitable.
I really enjoyed ‘Drive a Crooked Road’. Mickey Rooney delivers a sympathetic, yet not too pathetic, central performance whilst Blake Edwards’ script provides an excellent foundation not just for the plot but for the characters and dialogue. There’s also some rather nice footage of vintage racing cars for those interested.