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|Index||16 reviews in total|
Having not seen this film in about 20 years I am still impressed with it 's hard -hitting impact and stellar acting. Of course, one Mr. Mickey Rooney is indeed, INCREDIBLE in his role as the ring-leading "Killer".(In reference to another review here-none other than Orson Welles evoked Mickey Rooney's name as the greatest movie actor,also.) I also recall the jazzy-brassy score and the bare black and white photography. I love the Mick's last line before he goes out for his dose of lead poisoning.(I think the Stranglers lifted it for a line in one of their songs-Get a Grip on Yourself.)This is a great film and unjustly buried film. Let's get it out ! Side note-a recent Film Review magazine gave a big write up on Don Segal's "Babyface Nelson" ,made a couple years before "Last Mile" and also starring Mickey Rooney. Another rave of the Mick's intense and sympathetic performance.Perhaps it's the start of a groundswell of a appreciation for some truly superior cinematic performances.
Man I didn't know what I was in for when I sat down to watch this
brutal little gem. This portrait of a doomed attempted prison break
from a death row cell block hits very hard, and it left me shaking my
head in stunned silence.
I'm not surprised to learn from other reviews here that this story began its life as a stage play; most of the action takes place on one set, it features an ensemble cast with multiple meaty roles, and the first half of the film works at a deliberate pace with longer takes and scenes than are conventionally cinematic. It walks a thin line, how to get across the agonizing boredom of being in such a lockup, without becoming boring itself? The answer is to spread dialog around, and to give a lot of weight to mundane events, magnifying tensions and emotions. It gives the excellent cast a lot of room to create, if not exactly sympathy, at least an understanding of where the characters are coming from.
The second half (or maybe final third) of the movie is an altogether different animal, as the ticking timebomb of Mickey Rooney's John Mears explodes into violent retribution. Mears is a complicated character, an atheist and maybe a nihilist, but he cares deeply about his fellow death row inmates. Rooney's performance is AMAZING and dominates this section of the film. Also excellent are Clifford David as the youngest man on the row, next scheduled to be executed, and Frank Overton as Father O'Connors, the priest who gives the condemned men their last rites. His character shows tremendous courage as events spiral into bloodshed; he has a lot more backbone than the guards, who for the most part are sniveling, cowardly, sadistic creeps.
And as others have noted, the jazz score is outstanding, dynamic, punchy, and powerful. It maybe calls attention to itself a little too much, but it's wildly effective in underlining and slapping exclamation points on events throughout the film.
In short, terrific.
This remake of The Last Mile has been updated nicely with a nice jazz
score and the inmates and prison officials definitely fit the Fifties
as opposed to the Twenties when it first appeared on Broadway. But the
impact of this searing prison drama hasn't changed and Mickey Rooney
stretches his considerable talent to the limit playing the lead of
Killer Mears who leads the uprising of the death row inmates.
Mickey has some fast company among the people who've done this part. Spencer Tracy did it on Broadway and his performance there led to his original film contract with Fox. Clark Gable after doing some bit parts and extra work in silent films was spotted doing this in a touring company in Los Angeles which led to his MGM contract. And Preston Foster did it in the original screen version. Rooney's performance stands up to any of their's.
It's a simple plot, but the characters run deep. Before the big attempted breakout we get a character study of each of the inmates on Death Row. It takes a good actor to get himself noticed here though because the character of Killer Mears so dominates the film and the other inmates. These are men with nothing at all to lose, a lot like the inmates shown in The Green Mile. But of course they don't have a character like Mears to whip them in a frenzy when a guard slips and Mears gets the upper hand.
Being that the film is only on one set for 95% of the time, it's a small budget affair, hardly like Ben-Hur which came out the same year. Still Rooney's incredible performance should have merited Oscar consideration. He was nominated for films and performances not half as good as this.
Try to see both the Preston Foster and Mickey Rooney versions together. Too bad we can't see Spencer Tracy or Clark Gable in how they did the role. The Last Mile is timeless as long as we have capital punishment. I can see Russell Crowe doing Killer Mears easily in a 21st Century version.
"The Last Mile" is a heck of a good prison movie. Although there are a
LOT of really good prison film, I'd rank this up among the best due to
a script that never gives way to sentimentality as well as a wonderful
performance by Mickey Rooney in the lead.
The film is set on Death Row in a prison. While quite a few other films have been set in such a location, the film's prologue claims it's based on a real story. Whether or not that's true, I have no idea. Regardless, much of the film is spent just passing time....waiting until each guy's number is up and they are sent to be executed. At times, it's interesting to watch the guards, as a couple of them are not much better than the inmates. But the most interesting, clearly, is 'Killer' Mears. Unlike others who sweat out their time and worry about death, he's a cool and nasty piece of work. You see just how awful and determined he is when he is able to overcome one of the guards and he leads a prison revolt. However, this is not just a run of the mill attempt to break out. This group has nothing to lose and Mears is more than willing to kill all their captives without hesitation. This grittiness makes the film and those who see Rooney as just a child star are unaware that he could really act--and here he is amazingly good. Overall, this is a wonderfully realistic film--one that never gives way to sentiment and which ends on a gritty note instead of a happily ever after contrived ending.
Currently, you can see this film streaming from Netflix. Despite appearing like a low-budget and forgettable 50s film, it's anything but.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This one came right out of left field. I tuned in because I like Mickey Rooney and crime pictures in equal measure, but ended up getting a lot more than I bargained for. The Last Mile is one of the bleakest American films I've ever seen, a no holds barred depiction of life (so to speak) on Death Row. The tone is decidedly European; if Ingmar Bergman had ever made a prison flick, this would have been it. This is all the more surprising considering Howard Koch served as director and future Amicus honchos Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg produced! The cast is uniformly excellent, with especial kudos to Rooney as Killer Mears, Ford Rainey as Red Kirby (whose 30 day stay comes into play during the film's second act), and Leon Janney as sadistic prison guard Callahan (a role I can also imagine James Craig essaying with equal relish). Van Alexander contributes a fantastic, jazz-inflected score, Joseph Brun's black and white cinematography is frequently stunning, and the whole thing reminded me of Jacques Becker's Le Trou, which in my opinion is very high praise indeed!
Condemned men await their execution in this death row prison drama which, through the script, acting, music, setting, and overall ambiance brings home the anguish of their ordeal better than anyone's wildest expectations. Mickey Rooney seems born to play this part, and this film will make one want to find the nearly impossible to find Big Operator in order to see how this actor could so totally inhabit the part of a tough and ruthless criminal. Of course we remember his earlier days which amazes us as to how he could so brilliantly portray the character he does in this film. However this is more than merely Mickey Rooney. When the bullets start whizzing all over the cell block, you pretty much have to take your hat off to the director for making such a tough as nails film.
The movie may be a cheap-jack production, but it also has a number of
graphic touches including Rooney's absolutely riveting performance.
With its single set, ugly b&w photography, and no-name cast (except for
Rooney), I can't imagine the film played more than a few remote
drive-in's farthest from town. Nonetheless, the 80-minutes pushes the
bounds of 50's movie-making in several notable ways.
For example, catch how much emotional fear the doomed menwhether guards or cons show when facing death. It's really unusual for that period to risk agitating audiences with realistic fears of death. But this one does. Also, the ricocheting bullets had me ducking under my chair a really well done special effect. Actually, this cheapo comes closer to Sam Peckinpah's raw depiction of violence than about any film I've seen from that timebullets actually raise blood, and despite their pleading people do get shot point blank. I'm guessing the producers got away with this because Hollywood didn't much care what a few necking teenagers might use for background.
It's an ugly movie in more ways than onenot a single woman in sight!-- just a bunch of ugly guys. At the same time, the first half too often drags before picking up with the slam-bang second half. Then too, have you ever seen a more barren or squeakier clean cell block, likely a reflection of the story's stage origins. Anyway, it's Rooney at his most intense. And despite the movie's really brutal nature, there are more moments of genuine honesty than in most A-productions of the period. But it's not one you want to see if you're feeling down.
Although it's such a long time since I saw the film, I'm now planning to see it as soon as I can as it made such an impression on me, pretty much like that described in the review I've read on this site, which really confirmed my overall thoughts on the film and performance of Mickey Rooney in it. So now I can't wait to see it again, now that I have gotten the title again, and moreover by all accounts it really is as good as I first thought. That's why I have no trouble giving ten out of ten with my memories of it from years back, and in advance of my seeing it again as soon as I can. In addition to seeing the film again and finding out that it actually was as good as I had always considered it to be, I'll be happy to pass that good news on to others around in the course of discussions regarding good films and things to watch.
Gritty, realistic movie of those on the wrong side of the bars and of
life. A simply great movie that stays in my mind though I haven't seen
it since I was a teenager (I'm 61 now).
Though, as I said, it is a great movie; it would simply be another unmemorable, tepid little jail-house potboiler if not for a towering performance by Mickey Rooney. No pun intended.
Every once in a while I check to see if it has come out on DVD. Not yet. Too bad. It would sell to those of my age group; which I guess explains why it is not out.
I used to work in the industry, as a "grip" back in the early 70's. The workers spoke very fondly (and in certain areas, with awe) of Mickey.
The Last Mile (1959)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Prison drama takes place on the Death Row floor as one man (Clifford David) finally accepts the fact that he's going to die later that night. Before that can happen, the most violent man (Mickey Rooney) in the joint manages to break free and release the other inmates and soon they're holding hostages. THE LAST MILE isn't the greatest prison flick you're going to see but I think it has enough interesting moments to make it worth sitting through once. Low budget master Howard W. Koch does a pretty good job at bringing the material to life and you've got to give him even more credit because the actual material isn't all that good to begin with. Koch at least brings a nice atmosphere to the film and I was also impressed with the visual style that he brought it. This is especially noticeable during the sequence where the David character is confessing to a Priest (Frank Overton) and the use of shadows was very impressive. I also thought he managed to bring some good tension towards the end of the film but it's too bad the screenplay didn't give him more chances at this early on. Perhaps I've seen too many "cute" Mickey Rooney roles but I always have a hard time believing him in some of his more adult things. He's playing a mad dog killer here and while I thought he did a fine job in regards to the performance, I still can't see him as much of a threat. I thought Overton was also good in the role of the Priest but the rest of the cast were very hit and miss. The screenplay was clearly the weakest aspect of the film as we never really get to know any of the characters and we don't even get to know why they're on Death Row. I thought the film didn't know if it wasn't to be a straight crime flick or if it wanted to send some sort of political message about killing people. The film even tries to make us "like" these men but not for a second did I want to see any of them succeed.
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