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Film / Ride a Crooked Trail

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Ride a Crooked Trail is a 1958 Western film starring Audie Murphy, Walter Matthau, and The Guns of Navarone's Gia Scala.

Murphy plays petty criminal Joe Maybe, who is mistaken for the famous U.S. Marshal Tom Noonan and drafted by the crazy Judge Kyle (Matthau) to keep order in town.


Ride a Crooked Trail contains examples of:

  • Action Prologue: Maybe on the run from Noonan.
  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: a very well-done scene with Jimmy and Maybe, discussing their pasts and similarities.
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Judge Kyle gets shot in the arm by Maybe in the second scene, and just gets back up and walks like it's nothing.
    Maybe: "How come he doesn't fall over?"
    Sam: "I've seen him get shot six times and not fall over. Less'n he was drunk."
  • Brats with Slingshots: gunpowder variant. Jimmy has a varmint rifle, which he puts to good use in the penultimate fight.
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  • Catchphrase / Running Gag: "It's the law."
  • Cat Fight: an abbreviated one. Dancehall girl Brandy taunts Tessa about her "husband's" lack of training. Tessa floors her with a single blow.
  • Cheshire Cat Grin: Maybe sports one at points while bantering with Tessa.
  • Commonality Connection: Between Joe Maybe and Jimmy. Both are orphans, whose mothers were saloon girls. However, while Jimmy was adopted by the community and raised by Judge Kyle, Maybe...wasn't.
  • Combat Pragmatist: The Judge is a huge fan.
  • Courtroom Antics: provided mainly by the judge. Among his antics: forbidding the defense council from speaking, because "On account of, you're a liar and a cheat...and if you don't like hearing that, take me to court" and, "Drinks is on the railroad until midnight."
  • Disney Villain Death: Noonan, though not a villain, dies by falling off a cliff.
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  • Double Entendre: Tessa and Maybe exchange quite a few of them, most notably:
    Tessa: "Once I give him the word, Teeler's going to ride into town with ten men and do what you'd like to do."
    Maybe: "We're, uh, still talking about the bank, right?"
    Tessa: "And nothing else."
  • Disorganized Outline Speech: "Noonan"'s address at the railroad is one of these, as he gets distracted halfway through by Teeler's gang riding into town. However, he manages to play it off as a vague paean to the law and wraps it up before anybody besides Tessa notices.
  • Exiled to the Couch: Variant. Tessa won't allow him in her room and Jimmy has the spare room, so Maybe ends up sleeping in the bathtub for most of the movie.
  • Femme Fatale: Tessa.
  • Foreshadowing: Blink and you'll miss it, but Sam Teeler is namedropped as a murderer before Tessa even arrives.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: somewhat literally. Tessa marches past the bathroom, pauses, and then asks, horrified, "In the house?"
  • Heel–Face Turn: Maybe and Tessa both decide to go straight (and get married).
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Jimmy.
  • I Have This Friend...: "Noonan" to Jimmy during their Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene.
  • Large Ham: the Judge.
  • Leave the Two Lovebirds Alone: Maybe and Tessa exploit this to get time alone...to coordinate their stories.
  • Line-of-Sight Name / "Awesome McCool" Name: Joe Maybe.
  • Morality Pet: Jimmy is one to Judge Kyle, as well as becoming one to Maybe and Tessa.
  • Meaningful Echo: Tessa doesn't like men she's not involved with "mussing her clothes." She uses this to get Maybe to back off at first....and finally also says this to Sam Teeler.
  • Multitasked Conversation: Judge Kyle and Jimmy aren't really talking about Jimmy's dog Paddlefoot being a possible murderer.
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight: Teeler pulls a knife on Maybe in their final confrontation.
  • Pet the Dog: Tessa begins to defrost when Jimmy shows up; among other things, buying him a pony of his own.
  • Parental Substitute: "Mr. and Mrs Noonan" are pegged as the perfect substitutes for Jimmy. It's a surprise to all three of them when it works out.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Teeler is totally willing to listen to Maybe and follow his plan (to wait for the trail herds) instead of his original one....up to a point.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Gia Scala as Tessa.
  • Running Gag: "Ain't never gonna last," as well as "It's the law."
  • Smarter Than You Look: The Judge's assistant also knows that "Mrs. Noonan" isn't Noonan's actual wife, but keeps his mouth shut for the same reason Jimmy does.
  • That Man Is Dead: The Judge suggests Joe Maybe be the next name on "Noonan's" badge.
  • Undercover as Lovers: Maybe (as Noonan) has to pretend to be married to Tessa when she recognizes him (and greets him as Maybe.) He spins it that she called him "Baby" and she knows him well enough to play along.
  • Weapon of Choice: the Judge and his double-barreled shotgun.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Implied when Teeler asks where Jimmy is (Jimmy having seen him talking to Maybe.)
  • Your Cheating Heart: Averted. Tessa is Sam Teeler's girl—and both Teeler and Maybe know she's as good as her word. Not that it stops Maybe from trying...
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