On Sunday, Carla and I went to the Los Feliz Theatre in Hollywood for the American Cinematheque screening of Drive a Crooked Road (1954), starring Mickey Rooney and Dianne Foster. The movie, directed by Richard Quine, was shot in black and white and has a noirish look to it, even though it was set in the sunny climes of Los Angeles and Palm Springs.
Eddie Shannon (Rooney) is an auto mechanic and weekend race car driver in Los Angeles who fantasizes about racing in the European Grand Prix. He lives alone in a boarding house. His room is full of 2nd place trophies for local car races. With his short stature, disfiguring facial scar, and shy demeanor, the awkward Shannon is the butt of jokes at the garage where he works. When a beautiful femme fatale named Barbara (Foster) shows up to get her car repaired, Shannon becomes infatuated with her. To his bafflement, Barbara appears to be attracted to him, and they begin dating. "Why would a girl like her go for a guy like me?" he wonders.
Of course, this being film noir, no one is quite whom they seem to be. Barbara's real boyfriend is a bank robber who needs a getaway driver for a Palm Springs job. Shannon is offered $15,000 to be the driver, which would be enough to get him to Europe and compete in the big races. At first, he balks at the offer, but Barbara (still pretending to be interested in him) convinces him that he should take the job so they can have a wonderful life together. And so, the deluded Shannon starts down the metaphorical crooked road even before he starts driving down the literal crooked road out of Palm Springs.
Rooney was 35 years old when Drive a Crooked Road came out. He was no longer
the eternal teenager who'd teamed up with Judy Garland and starred in peppy musicals. In the 1950s, he was considered past his prime and struggling to find work. He was perfect for the tragic figure role of Eddie Shannon. Foster does a terrific job as the duplicitous Barbara, but Rooney steals the show. He's sad, angry, and confused, and we feel for him every step of the way.
Drive a Crooked Road is a well-done noir with an atypical leading man. If you're a fan of the genre, it's definitely worth seeking out.