Friday, June 12, 2009

A young couple learns that a life of crime is "The Wrong Road'

The Wrong Road (1937)
Starring: Richard Cromwell, Helen Mack, Lionel Atwill, and Horace MacMohan
Director: James Cruze
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Jimmy and Ruth, a young, down-on-their-luck couple (Cromwell and Mack) steal $100,000 from Jimmy's employer that they intend to live off it once they get out of prison. A private detective charged with recovering the loot (Atwill) believes they are just a pair of desperate kids deserving of a second chance, and he arranges their early parole. As he encourages them to give back the money, a coldhearted, murderous criminal (MacMohan) is stalking them in the hopes of getting the loot for himself.

"The Wrong Road" is so heavy-handed in delivering its "crime doesn't pay" and "it's never to late to reform and become a law-abiding citizen again" messages that it borders on the goofy educational films that were so popular in the 1950s and 1960s (and even into the 1970s, because I remember watching a few...). However, a cast far classier and talented than is usually found in that sort of films, and a fast-moving story that actually has some tension to it makes it better than the educational shorts and film-strips it resembles.

The best part of the film is Atwill's character. Private detective Mike Roberts is almost a proto-Colombo, with his ability to pop up in Jimmy and Ruth's path at just the right (or wrong, depending on your point of view) moment, and his technique of annoying the criminals into coming clean.