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The Last Mile

Posted by martinteller on April 20, 2013

On death row, eight men await their turn being led through the little door at the end of the hall.  They pray for stays of execution… another month, week or day of life is precious to them.  Their guard, Drake (Don Barry), torments them emotionally, taunting them about their upcoming deaths.  One day, “Killer” Mears (Mickey Rooney) gets pushed too far and strikes back.

This is a remake of a 1932 film.  It’s based on a play, and for the first 50 minutes you can tell.  The action never leaves death row, the performances are hammy and the language is too weighty and introspective.  But then it transforms into a very different movie for the past half hour, changing the dynamic of the situation as well as the staging.  It becomes incredibly violent (guess who dies first? the black guy) and tense.

Still, the acting is kind of hammy.  I know from Baby Face Nelson that Mickey Rooney can play a dark character, and do it very well.  Here, although it does give his character a certain intensity, it’s mostly a whole lot of shouting.  Everyone does a lot of shouting, actually, but he’s the worst offender.  It’s an annoying bunch of performances.  No one really stands out in the cast, although Frank Overton as the priest is not bad.

The cinematography is generally pretty good, especially given the limitations of the setting.  You get a lot of the expected shadows of the bar falling across people’s faces… in one particularly interesting shot, one of these shadows completely obliterates the eyes of a man who is gradually losing his mind.  The score by Van Alexander is jazz that runs both hot and cold.  It’s good stuff, but like the acting, often a bit too much.

The movie starts with a title card that says it’s based on a true story… and then backpedals by saying prison guards are trained better now, and besides, it’s all made up.  Nice.  I wouldn’t say it comes out against capital punishment, but it does lend some humanity to those condemned to it.

Howard W. Koch directed one of the worst noirs I’ve ever seen: The Girl in Black Stockings.  This isn’t nearly as bad, but I don’t really recommend it.  Death row/prison films have been done better, and Mickey Rooney has done better noirs.  Rating: Fair (62)

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