RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL. Universal, 1958. Audie Murphy, Gia Scala, Walter Matthau, Henry Silva. Written by Borden Chase. Directed by Jesse Hibbs.

   Audie Murphy may have been the top billed star, but it’s Walter Matthau who steals the show in the 1958 Cinemascope western, Ride a Crooked Trail. The future Academy Award winner portrays Judge Kyle, a rough-around-the-edges, whiskey-drinking, and shotgun-toting small town magistrate.

   When outlaw Joe Maybe (Murphy) comes to town and falsely assumes the identity of a federal marshal, the ornery Judge Kyle takes the young man under his wing and makes him the town’s lawman. Little does he realize, at least at the beginning, that Joe Maybe, along with his “wife” Tessa (Gia Scala) have their eyes on the local bank vault.

   Leading the outlaw gang is the borderline sociopathic Sam Teeler, portrayed to the hilt by veteran character actor Henry Silva. Of course, there comes “the choice.” Does Joe Maybe decide to go straight and side with his newfound friend, Judge Kyle, or does he stay on a crooked path?

   Much of the film is typical Western fare and there’s not all that much in this one that you probably haven’t seen done better elsewhere before. Sad to say, the film’s direction and editing is really at times noticeably sub-par. Which is a shame, because it looks so good, with bright colors and distinctive hues.

   But as I mentioned before, Matthau gives a stand-out performance. It was a relatively early film for him, one made in the first several years of his long and illustrious career. If for nothing else, Ride a Crooked Trail is worth watching for him alone.

NOTE: Dan Stumpf has also reviewed Ride a Crooked Trail for this blog. See his comments here.