Maybe a Crooked Comedy
Audie Murphy) finds himself being chased by a U.S. Marshal but escapes when the Marshal falls to his death. Having carried on to the nearby town he is met by Judge Kyle (Walter Matthau), an alcoholic who mistakes him for the Marshal which Joe goes along with. Things get a bit uncomfortable when old friend Tessa Milotte (Gia Scala) shows up in town to case the bank for robber Sam Teeler (Henry Silva) and in order to keep his cover makes out that Tessa is not only his wife but they need to leave. Unfortunately the Judge won't have it and makes Joe not only the town Marshal but they find themselves looking after a young orphan. It brings Joe and Tessa close together who find themselves enjoying being on the right side of the law but there is always their past and Sam Teeler hanging over them.
Mistaken identity is a concept which has been used in just about every type of movie from screwball comedies to horrors and it is a concept which works. It is the concept which makes "Ride a Crooked Trail" entertaining as whilst a story of a criminal mistaken for a lawman is a familiar one it is also a playful one. Not only that "Ride a Crooked Trail" has Walter Matthau who makes the heavy drinking Judge a comical character, in doing so keeping things amusing. But what goes on in this 1950s western lets it down as it tries to last the course on the one joke.
That is the trouble with "Ride a Crooked Trail" as whilst it is pleasant enough with Audie Murphy and Gia Scala nicely cast as two bad kids who end up enjoying going straight it just sort of meanders along. It almost feels like a movie which isn't fully sure what it is as in it is sort of a comedy but not always funny enough to be called such but it lacks the punch to make it a good western. It's a shame as whilst the outcome is obvious from the minute Joe is mistaken for a lawman it is a pleasant idea which could have been a lot more action packed and funnier.
One thing is for certain and that is whilst Audie Murphy expectedly gets top billing he is outshone by Walter Matthau. Matthau brings plenty of energy and humour to "Ride a Crooked Trail" whilst Murphy looks on and smiles, in fact he looks like he is having fun just watching Walter Matthau work. It is the same with Gia Scala as she often looks like she is just happy to watch Walter Matthau steal the scene from both her and Murphy.
What this all boils down to is that "Ride a Crooked Trail" is a fun little western, an entertaining time passer. But it is sort of stuck in the middle with some humour but not enough and some western action but again not enough.