Bill Gibson is Little Joe's nemesis and is one of the men who can testify that he saw the labor boss in an incriminating conversation with a known criminal - something that Little Joe ... See full summary »
Charles F. Haas
Mamie Van Doren
I've got two lousy weeks left, and you're asking me to have faith?
The Last Mile is directed by Howard W. Koch and adapted to screenplay by Milton Subotsky and Seton I. Miller from the play of the same name by John Wexley. It stars Mickey Rooney, Frank Overton, Michael Constantine and John Vari. Music is by Van Alexander and cinematography by Joseph Brun.
The Death House is the cell block where nine inmates await their dates with the electric chair. Some of the guards delight in tormenting the condemned men, one of whom is Killer John Mears (Rooney), and he's had enough...
Already made in 1932 with Preston Foster in the starring role, Howard Koch's 59 version of The Last Mile taps into the film noir zeitgeist of the time and unleashes a film of great power.
Essentially played out on one set, there was a danger that this could have been too stage bound as a production, but not a bit of it, the tight confines of the shoot are just perfect for the thematics of the story. Pic begins with imposing title credits, an animated drawing of "Old Sparky" accompanied by shards of Van Alexander's Jazz "N" Blues musical score. We are then locked up with the convicts of "The Death House", sharing their fears, their anger and their regrets, the constant glances towards "The Door" at the end of the block akin to catching a glimpse of "The Grim Reaper" spying on you.
For the first two thirds of the piece the makers ask for our patience as they build characters and atmosphere, gently ratcheting up the tension with every claustrophobic frame. Prison stories were ready made for film noir purveyors, offering great opportunities for the cinematographers to utilise the steel bars for psychologically shadowed impact, and Joseph Brun does that excellently here, even managing to extend the cell shadows over the smug guards, the inference is that they too are locked up in this place of abject misery.
The air of fatalism mixes with the sweat of the men and drips down the cell walls, we are left in no doubt that this powder keg is about to be ignited, and when it comes it comes with the thunder, producing a last third of kinetic cinema of throat grabbing proportions. To which Koch and his team deliver a film noir coup de grace. Rooney leads the way with his performance of a seething John Mears, it's not over acting as some critics of the time suggested, it's a full on commitment to the portrayal of the incarcerated male who literally has nothing to lose and has had enough of being taunted. The other actors around him inevitably pale into his shadow, but they also put much emotion into their respective roles, very much so.
An under seen and under valued prison noir, The Last Mile should be sought out by anyone with a bent for such films. 8.5/10
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