A wrongfully convicted man is caught in the middle of a violent prison riot.
Richard Walters is in serious trouble. Wrongfully convicted and sent to death row faster than you can say mugshot. He becomes trapped in the middle of a deadly standoff between prisoners and guards. Can he stay alive long enough for his supporters to free him?
The Last Mile was a broadway play debuting in 1930 and starring future silver screen great Spencer Tracy. This film is the first of two film adaptations.
Watching this film proves that prison movie stereotypes existed even in the 1930s. You have the usual range of guards, some sympathetic, some sadistic. The cast of jailbirds is suitably varied and you’ll recognize many familiar archetypes. The lights in death row even dim as the guards test the electric chair. The last mile referred to in the tile is the final stretch the condemned man walks from death row to the electric chair.
Sadistic head guard. Check!
Tough guy con. Check!
Last confession for condemned man, Check!
Walking the last mile.
We’re gettin’ outta here, see?
The guards have other ideas.
Like many prison films, the film is unashamedly against the death penalty and brutality of the state towards the incarcerated. In this film, that message is delivered in such a melodramatic, heavy handed manner, that the result is more corny than affecting and actually undermines the film’s message. It also makes tough viewing for the reviewer.
A possible reason is that this film is based on a theatrical production. While some great films started life on the stage, the acting styles and delivery are very different and what sounds good and normal on stage can become very overacted in the more intimate perspective of film, especially in close-up
Another issue is that this is an early sound film and there are quite a number of technical issues inherent to the early talkies here. Overly loud, booming mid-range, shrill high tones and missing bass frequencies make for difficult listening for the modern ear. Certain sounds such as footsteps and papers boom through the speakers, drowning out other sounds. The tinny lo-fi sound makes the melodramatic acting even more comical.
Unlike many early talkies, the camera is very mobile in this film, panning, roving and even being “walked” across the set very unusual and more than a little distracting when overused. The film often has a pronounced shake to it while this is going on.
While many releases of this film are in poor condition. The copy I reviewed is in pretty good shape. There is very little artifacting and no missing frames as far as I can tell. The sound issues are due to the primitive nature of sound equipment at the time of production.
Another adaptation of the play was released in 1959, starring Mickey Rooney as ‘killer’ Mears. Look for a review of that film soon.
Verdict: 1.5 gavels out of 5
Watch this early talkie more for historical interest. Technical issues and corny overacting, plus a cliched plot make for a difficult viewing experience.