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Richard Walters is condemned to death for a murder he claims not to have committed. He arrives on death row just before a brutal inmate leads the other convicts in a violent uprising. Walters gets caught up in the riot, while on the outside his friends are trying to find evidence of his innocence.Written by
The earliest documented telecasts of this film occurred in New York City Friday 3 May 1946 on WCBW (Channel 2) and in Los Angeles Sunday 18 April 1948 on KTLA (Channel 5). See more »
As Joe Berg is saying goodbye to "Killer" Mears, a moving shadow of the boom microphone is visible on the wall of Mears' cell. See more »
[first title card]
"The Last Mile" is more than a story of prison and of the condemned. To me it is a story of those men within barred cells, crushed mentally, physically and spiritually between unrelenting forces of man-made laws and man-fixed death. And justly or unjustly found guilty, are they not the victims of man's imperfect conventions, upon which he has erected a social structure of doubtful security? What is society's responsibility for ever-increasing murders? What shall be done with ...
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THE LAST MILE (World Wide, 1932), directed by Sam Bischoff, is not exactly a racing story of cars or horses going through their last lap towards the finish line, but in convicts terms, a prison movie about execution. Taken from a stage play by John Wexley that reportedly starred Spencer Tracy (New York) and Clark Gable (West Coast), it might have been interesting watching either any of these two fine actors reprise his original roles of "Killer" Mears: Tracy for Fox Studios or Gable at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Instead, the Mears role went to the second billed Preston Foster, who did a fine job as Mears. The central character, however, is played by the top-billed Howard Phillips, a name not known but so happens to be one of the actors from the stage production in this screen adaptation whose movie career was relatively brief and totally forgotten.
Following an introductory message about "prison and of the condemned, and what society is going to do about it" by Lewis E. Lawes, warden of Sing-Sing Prison in Ossining, New York, the story opens in a courtroom where Richard Walters (Howard Phillips) is sentenced by the judge for murder in the first degree, and to be executed for his crime on September 13th. Richard's mother (Louise Carter) immediately screeches and cries upon sentence as she witnesses her boy taken away by the guards. No longer a name but now simply an identification number, Richard is placed in a cell on death row surrounded by other condemned prisoners, including John "Killer" Mears (Preston Foster), the toughest of the bunch. As he witnesses Joe Berg (George E. Stone) of Cell 1 being escorted his last mile through the little green door to the electric chair, Richard faints dead away. A flashback foretells to what led to his prison sentence. (Richard's business partner, Max Kuger (Max Wagner) borrows a large sum of money from their bank account, followed by a gas station robbery where Kuger is shot and killed by police while Richard, caught with a gun in his hand, arrested for a crime for which he is innocent). During the course of time, a prison break arises, and Killer Mears threatening to kill every one of his hostages, ranging from prison guards (one being brother-in-law to the warden) to a prison priest unless the warden, Frank Lewis (Frank Sheridan) doesn't meet with his demands for freedom.
With 1932 seemingly being the year of prison or chain gang themes, bearing such titles as HELL'S HIGHWAY (RKO Radio, with Richard Dix) and the classic I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (Warner Brothers, starring Paul Muni), where Louise Carter plays the mother in each of these aforementioned movie titles, it's interesting how THE LAST MILE wasn't part of the Warner Brothers list of social issues, considering how that studio specialized on this sort of material, or even MGM, where THE BIG HOUSE (1930) featuring Wallace Beery, having started the whole cycle about men behind bars for that time, in spite the fact that Samuel Goldwyn's CONDEMNED (1929) starring Ronald Colman arrived a year earlier. Fox films did one amusing parody of UP THE RIVER (1930) with Spencer Tracy, while Hal Roach got Laurel and Hardy to spoof it in PARDON US (1931). Yet THE LAST MILE, produced by a non-major movie studio, holds up, even where portions seem to be like a reproduced stage play. The story does contain some outdoor activities, but the death row scenes with prisoners holding on to the metal bars in upward positions to be what's shown the most, giving indication to how the play was performed and presented on stage. Other actors in the cast include: Daniel L. Haynes (Sonny Jackson, Cell # 2); Edward Van Sloan (The Rabbi); Alec B. Francis (Father O'Connor); Noel Madison (D'Amoro, Cell # 6); Alan Roscoe (Kirby, Cell # 7), Al Hill (Werner, Cell # 8); among others. Of the major actors, Preston Foster gathers the most attention over Howard Phillips while George E. Stone being a close second through his small but very effective performance.
THE LAST MILE was successful enough to spawn a 1959 remake for United Artists starring Mickey Rooney in one of his finer roles during his latter-day career. The 1932 original, almost forgotten until its resurrection in the 1980s with 1940s reissue opening title from Astor Pictures being the print in current circulation as part of a 45 minute featurette on public television's "Matinee at the Bijou" in 1982. Availability has been followed onto video cassette distribution and later DVD process, along with complete 68 minute late night broadcasts on various public television stations until the 1990s. Cable television has been rare, though notably shown on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: October 5, 2016) where the Astor Print reissue print rather was shown than the 1932 World Wide original opening instead. Regardless of its age, its a gripping screen adaptation about convicts on death row awaiting their last mile to eternal freedom. (*** pardons)
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