After unsuccessfully attempting to rob a bank, Joe Maybe (Audie Murphy) is being hunted by lawman Jim Noonan. During the chase, Marshall Noonan plunges off a cliff and to his death, whereupon, Maybe takes the man's horse and badge and heads into the river town of Webb City.
Webb City's hard-drinking Judge Kyle (Walter Matthau) is determined to keep the riff-raff out of his town and, thus, stops all strangers as they enter the city limits. If they and their business are legitimate to the judge, he bids them welcome; if not, he directs them out of town.
Claiming the new arrival fits the description of bank robber Joe Maybe, Judge Kyle is ready to arrest him. After a quick shootout with the man results in a wounded shoulder for the judge, he notices that the stranger carries the legendary broken-star badge of Marshall Noonan, and he assumes that the man is, in fact, the famous marshall.
With the judge needing to recover from his gunshot wound, he asks "Noonan" to hold down the fort and keep the peace for him. Though Maybe wants to get on out of town, the judge won't take "no" for answer, so Joe Maybe takes on the law-abiding identity of Marshall Jim Noonan.
His cover is nearly blown when The River Queen docks in Webb City and old flame Tessa (Gia Scala) disembarks. Part of Sam Teeler's (Henry Silva) gang, Tessa is in town to scope out the local bank. Upon catching sight of her former love, Tessa calls him "Maybe," but the quick-thinking Joe lies that she's his wife and that she called him "baby."
Happy to meet the respectable wife of a U.S. Marshall, Judge Kyle sets the couple up in a lovely little house, where they must keep up the pretense of being a loving, law-abiding married couple, all the while planning to rob the bank when Sam Teeler and his gang arrive in town.
Adding to Maybe/Noonan's dilemma is the presence of the little orphan boy, Jimmy. A ward of the court, he needs respectable parents, and it seems that Mr. and Mrs. Noonan fit the bill. With Jimmy watching him, Judge Kyle beginning to get suspicious, and the Teeler gang anxious to get to the robbery, the "marshall" isn't quite sure what he wants to do. How it all plays out is the balance of the film.
Ride a Crooked Trail is loads of fun. As stated, it's one of my favorite (so far) of Murphy's Westerns...it's right up there with No Name on the Bullet as one that is a 4-star, "really like it" film. First of all, I'm a sucker for these kinds of storylines. They draw me in every time. Besides Audie, who looks like he is having a lot of fun in this film, the one to watch here is Walter Matthau. He is terrific in his role! Gia Scala, who I'm not overly familiar with, is beautiful, and I think she is great in her part. She and Audie have fantastic chemistry together. Finally, the film has a couple of very touching moments, both of which got me a little misty-eyed.
This film ought to be fairly easy to track down, as it is out on DVD, plus it is available in its entirety on YouTube. Fans of Murphy, Matthau, and Scala ought to quite enjoy it.
NOTE: All photos in this article were obtained from the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website (HERE)