It is a proud day for Davy Cooper (Norman Wisdom) as he sits on the pier at Sleath-on-Sea, guest of honour at a ceremony to unveil a statue to him and all he has done for the seaside town. But how did he reach this prestigious point? We must go back to when he was at his lowest ebb, destitute after leaving the Army, hungrily envious of those he saw through restaurant windows downing their meals when his own stomach remained empty. He couldn't catch a break, until he chanced upon an old friend from his military days, Flash Dan (Timothy Bateson), so called because he now made his money in dodgy dealings and he took him to see his boss, Adolf Carter (Alfred Marks); Davy was initially reluctant, but he came around to the criminal way of thinking...
There Was a Crooked Man, not to be confused with the Kirk Douglas Western of ten years later, was hardly seen since its first release thanks to some legal difficulties, representing an unusual turn of events for a Norman Wisdom film as even today his comedies are shown regularly on British television (and presumably Albanian television as well). This left his fans who had not had the opportunity to see it very curious about what it was like, and those with long memories the sole proof it had ever seen the light of day (or the dark of the auditorium, technically), but almost sixty years after it had disappeared from view, it reappeared on DVD and finally Wisdom's legion of followers could see what the fuss was about.
It was not the traditional comedy from the star where he would indulge in plenty of slapstick and stunts, most of which were performed by the daredevil himself, in the style of the silent Hollywood comedians and looking forward to such stars as Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jackie Chan who also made this sort of thing their trademark. Here he did not fling himself around the screen as much, there was essentially one sequence where he did what audiences expected of him (the cotton factory bit, patterned after Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times) and the occasional falling from a drainpipe or whatever, so there was far more character humour than he was accustomed to, playing less his cartoonish incarnation and something closer to a real person.
That said, this was still Norman Wisdom we were talking about, so he continued to embrace the absurd as Davy's progress winds up in a place you would not imagine from where he started. His career as a safe cracker - and safe blower-upper - goes very well until in a sequence inspired by the then popular heist flick Rififi (there was a lot of this going on in that era) sees him caught when Adolf persuades him to rob a bank under a hospital (huh?). But prison life suits Davy and he wants to serve his full seven years because he likes the company, the security and tending to the garden, so he is horrified when he gets that only in the movies twist of time off for good behaviour; nothing he says can make them keep him on, however, so he heads north to Sleath and a job opportunity there. The first thing anyone says to him? "Leave!"
That's from the station master (Reginald Beckwith), but it's too late, and Davy finds out the citizens are not a friendly bunch, especially when they know of his jailbird past. The station master is the exception, and he puts him up as a lodger, which is sweetened by his decent daughter Ellen (an early role for Susannah York) being there too. She would normally be the love interest, but this was hardly developed, and it was only in a bit at the end that we had any idea she felt that kind of affection for Davy. Meanwhile, he is discovering that crooks can hold official positions too, for his new boss, mayor Andrew Cruickshank, is planning to swindle the town for his own profit, which leads the disillusioned Davy to draw up his own, farfetched and decidedly explosive scheme to set the world to rights. The parts where Wisdom got to do his familiar shtick were accomplished enough, the shower scene was particularly amusing, but it was story he was more interested in here, and it was reasonably compelling, no lost classic, but perfectly enjoyable as a change of pace for the celebrated star. Music by Kenneth V. Jones.
[Network's DVD in their British Film line is the first home release of this title ever, restored and as it has been so rare marks a must-buy for Wisdom fans. A gallery is the sole extra.]