Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Last Mile

Now that we're in the first full week of a new month, we get a new Star of the Month (more on that in a few days) and a new Spotlight on TCM. This month's Spotlight is called "Stars Behind Bars", which as you can guess deals with prison movies, a subject which I think has been a reasonably oft-repeated theme on TCM. But the genre is an interesting one. This month's movies will be presented by Frank Darabont, a writer/producer responsible for such movies as The Shawshank Redemption.

The movie I'd like to talk about this week is The Last Mile, which will be on overnight at 3:15 AM. Howard Phillips plays Dick Walters, who is convicted of murder after getting in an argument with the co-manager of the service station he runs is followed by a holdup in which said co-manager is shot in a struggle over a gun. Dick is innocent, of course, because we need this to drive half the drama. But as I said he was convicted, and even sentenced to death, so he winds up on death row, as #5.

The prisoner who more or less lords it over the others is Killer Mears (Preston Foster), the man in #4. At this point, we get a lot of the tropes of prison movies: the sadistic guard, the black prisoner who sings (in this one, he also expects Heaven to be segregated), the warden who actually has a conscience, the frightened prisoner, and so on. Ultimately, Mears decides the situation is dire enough that he tries a jailbreak. It's certain not to work, but there's also the problem of whether it could permanently destroy any chance #5 has to clear his name. Watch for Paul Fix as one of the prisoners, a quarter century before he'd play Micah Torrence on The Rifleman.

I have to admit that even though I only watched this one a few months back, a lot of the details are a bit hazy to me. I think that ultimately speaks to the fact that though there's a lot of potential for interesting material here, I found it got bogged down in the genre. The other thing that really didn't help is the fact that the movie fell into the public domain, which means that there are a lot of crappy prints available, and TCM ran one of those prints. I had never heard of Astor Pictures, and it turns out that they distributed a re-release in the late 1940s, a good 15 years after the original release, from another obscure company called KBS Productions.

The Last Mile seems to be available at Amazon on DVD and streaming video, although I have no idea of the quality of the DVD. It doesn't seem to be available at the TCM Shop.

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