‘Walk a Crooked Mile’ or — A Special Relationship?

‘Walk a Crooked Mile’ (1948) doesn’t get off to the most promising of starts as a rabidly anti-Communist text appears before our eyes while a self-serious narration is pumped into our ears that’s explaining everything we can clearly see going on on-screen. And what we do see on screen are some rather inert looking FBI agents determined to keep America free of treacherous infiltrators. Oh dear. This could be dryer than an unbuttered rice cake. But keep watching closely because there’s some really nice stuff going on in this movie.

Top secret formulae from the Lakeview Laboratory of Nuclear Physics in California are being smuggled out of the research centre and into the hands of a Communist spy ring and so it’s up to FBI agent Dan O’Hara (Dennis O’Keefe), and with a little help of Scotland Yard detective Philip Grayson (Louis Hayward), to not only identify the traitor but also who their contacts are as well as deducing how the atomic equations are being extracted past the laboratory’s security in the first place.

This involves leg-work, surveillance, wire-taps, shadowing, room searches, hidden cameras, infra-red light, chemicals and lots and lots of voice-over. Leads are lost but soon picked up again and it’s not long before O’Hara and Grayson are ping-ponging from the heart of San Francisco to the very heart of atomic science and back.

Will the Commies get their hands on the full set of equations and disrupt the safety of the entire planet or will O’Hara and Grayson be able to tear their eyes off each other long enough to capture those evil and treacherous baddies? Watch ‘Walk a Crooked Mile’ and find out!

The film gets off to a cracking start as O’Hara hears his contact gunned down on the other end of the phone. This leads to a frantic man-hunt and it’s not long before we’re making our way across the Golden Gate Bridge and plunged into both the story and the procedural work of secret agents. It’s all rather exciting and, like a hard working FBI agent, hardly pauses to stop; we’re always keeping an eye out or are on the move. Often both.

Not only that but the movie delights in the fetishism of technology driven voyeurism to such an erotic degree that it would make Brian De Palma salivate like a ravenous hound (indeed, there’s a lot of De Palma here such as ‘Dressed to Kill’s hidden camera equipment and even Pacino’s blazing muzzled flashes at the end of ‘Scarface’).

There’s an excellent scene where we are asked to sit through the footage of a scene we’ve already paid attention to, except this time we can hear the film imploring us — “Look! Everything you need

to know is before your eyes! Can you spot it?” The result of this? Full-blown engagement and total immersion. I was hooked!

What’s also captivating is the relationship between FBI agent O’Keefe and Scotland Yard’s Grayson which might be one of the most delightfully homoerotic relationships I’ve seen between any two law men. They flirt, bat their eyes at each other, shower each other with compliments and, in another great little scene, play coquettish love games with each other in bed before they switch off the lights and go to sleep with their red corpuscles flowing. This means that although you could view ‘Walk a Crooked Mile’ as your typical all American, anti-Communist propagandist fare it’s even easier, and more fun, to see it as a progressive take on masculine intimacy.

And don’t tell me that in that final shot, as they walk away from camera and into their new life together, that they aren’t holding hands. After all, the film has been asking us to look closely so that’s what I’m doing.

I’m tempted to say I’m worried I’m over selling ‘Walk a Crooked Mile’ but that would be a disingenuous lie because I had such a blast with this movie that I’d happily eulogise its pleasures, of which there are many. It’s got a great story, superb pacing, seriously impressive location work and the black and white cinematography and lighting is evocative, gorgeous and thrilling. There’s some really nice character writing going on here, too, with some great little flourishes of dialogue and unexpected motivations from different suspects.

It’s not a classic and for all the pseudo-documentary filming style it’s as fantastical as they come but if FBI agents, atomic secrets, spy rings, nuclear science, murders, chases, hidden codes and an American and British love affair is your thing then it’s worth keeping an eye on ‘Walk a Crooked Mile’. There’s some really cool stuff going on inside this one. Just make sure to look closely.

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Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.

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Colin Edwards

Colin Edwards

Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.

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