A semi-fictionalized version of John Resko's incarceration is presented. John is on death row at Sing Sing for murder. In December 1930, he killed a toy store shopkeeper over a teddy bear ... See full summary »
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Douglas Fairbanks Jr.,
A semi-fictionalized version of John Resko's incarceration is presented. John is on death row at Sing Sing for murder. In December 1930, he killed a toy store shopkeeper over a teddy bear he wanted to get as a Christmas present for his two year old daughter, Cathy, but for which he could not pay. Twenty minutes before John's scheduled execution, he is given a reprieve, his sentence commuted to life, and he transferred to Dannemora. He initially has a difficult time adjusting to life at Dannemora, from the uncaring direction of the prison administration including they not dealing with the issue of bed bugs, to altercations with fellow prisoners who seem to want their two pounds of literal and figurative flesh from John, to news that he receives from the outside about goings-on within his family. However, he does eventually befriend many of his fellow prisoners, especially Nick, Iggy and Wino. John dreams of escaping from Dannemora, so that he can be at least an economically generating ... Written by
I've seen quite a few prison movies and this one is a bit different. First off, it's based on a real person. Second, because it's real, it lacks the glamor or sadism of prison films like "Brute Force" or "The Shawshank Redemption". And, unlike the awful "Birdman of Alcatraz" (which completely sanitized a truly evil man), this one sticks pretty close to the facts.
The film begins with John Resko (Ben Gazzara) on death row and in a flashback scene, you learn how he got there. However, shortly before his execution, his sentence is commuted to life in prison and the rest of the film concerns his attempt to cope with prison life. However, unlike the expected outcome (being taken out in a pine box), Resko, with the help of a caring prison guard, finds a means of escape--but not at all the one he expected.
There's a lot more to the film than my brief description. However, it is NOT an action-packed film or one that shows prison being hellish--just boring and a waste of life. It does a good job of this. But what's really neat are the performances. Gazzara was a heck of a good actor and you wonder if he would have been a big star had he possessed Hollywood good looks. But it's not just him--the rest of the cast is quite good. A particular standout is Sammy Davis, but Ray Walston (in a wacky role) and Stuart Whitman are also quite good. Realistic and fascinating...and a bit slow. But this slowness I really appreciated, as the film didn't change facts to make for a non-stop action or suspenseful film--just reality.
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