Friday, October 28, 2011

Walls come tumbling down

I checked out a really bad VHS rip of Jericho Mile circa 1979. It's a Michael Mann film that won an Emmy. To say that this post is a spoiler would be a little rediculous. Most people could guess the plot of the movie within the first 10 minutes. That's not to say it isn't worth seeking out. I enjoyed it.

There are a few recognizable cast members. Peter Strauss as Larry Murphy. Roger E. Mosley as Cotton Crown (he is best know for being T.C., the chopper pilot on Magnum). Brian Dennehy as Doctor D. Is there a movie of this period that Brian Dennehy isn't in? Geoffrey Lewis as Dr. Bill Janowski. Ed Lauter as Coach Jerry Belouit. Again, Ed Lauter seems to have been in so many movies of this period.

Murphy hauling ass around the prison yard

I have to say. Nothing perks my interest like a ripped shirtless man, running in 70's short shorts to Sympathy For The Devil by The Stones. Add some tatted-up prison yard onlookers and you have my complete attention.

The predictable plot goes a little like this... Larry Murphy is a naturally talented runner who is in prison for killing his father. He feels like he deserves to be there but would do it all over again because he saved his step-sister from constant brutality. Running the Folsom prison yard is a release for him. Everyday Murphy runs around trash cans in a ad-hock track. R. C. Styles is his prison buddy. Styles is black. The mixed race relationship is in contrast to the gang segmentation in the prison. Cotton Crown runs the black gang who are obsessed with physical fitness. Doctor D runs the hateful drug dealing white gang. A character I can't remember runs the hispanic crew who owns most of the contraband. Styles and Murphy run together and although Styles is nowhere near Murphy's capability, he fancies himself as Murphy's unofficial coach. Murphy is very cool toward Styles. You get the feeling like he is trying to do his time without getting in trouble and without getting too close to anyone. It is only until Styles gets himself into hot water with Doctor D's gang that Murphy starts to show his true feelings for him. Styles wants a conjugal visit from his wife and tries to use Doctor D's contacts to make it happen. They turn the tables on him and replace his wife with a mule who smuggles in drugs. Styles is so upset, he makes a stink and the mule gets busted. Murphy wants to get Styles to safety but Doctor D's crew lock his cell and murder Styles. Meanwhile, Murphy's prison psychologist has become aware of Murphy's speed and gets the warden excited. Murphy makes a deal to run by being allowed to go through Doctor D's gang lockers. He finds drug money and burns it in the yard putting himself on Doctor D's death list. The warden contacts a coach from Sacramento State hoping that they could get some great P.R. from Murphy and make something positive happen in the prison. The coach brings some of his guys with him and instructs them to "smoke" Murphy on the last lap. Murphy wins of course. The coach starts working with him and they hope to get him a shot at Olympic trials. The only way to do it is to host a race at the prison. Doctor D stops all the prisoners from helping. He also tells Cotton Crown that Murphy is the reason Styles is dead. Cotton Crown kicks Murphy's ass but in the process discovers just how much Murphy actually loved Styles. Cotton Crown then becomes a huge advocate of Murphy and makes a pact with the Hispanic gang to break the white blockade. The prison comes together to help make the track for Murphy's race. Murphy wins the race but is then told by the committee that he can not run in the trials because they do not want to have the reputation of the committee tarnished by a murderer. In the last scene, Murphy walks in to the prison after doing some running. He overhears that Davies, the Olympic trial winner had a time of 3:50:06. Murphy goes to his cell, gets his running spikes and comes back out to the running track. He holds a stopwatch in his hand and takes off like Dam Busters to Sympathy For The Devil. All the prisoners drop what they are doing and come to watch. When he finishes the mile, a prisoner checks the watch and says "he beat Davies." Murphy throws the watch and we see it smash on the ground.

Styles gives-up but screams at Murphy to kick

This movie is plastered with cheesy 70's stuff. Even Murphy's nickname Lickedy Split is rediculous. There is jive talk galore and it all made me laugh. There is something about Brian Dennehy jive talking that is ludicrous. As a side note, Dennehy has skinny little legs in this movie but has his familiar big belly. He looks a bit like a bull frog. Here are some of the best pieces of jive talk I can remember:
  • "The man"
  • "Daddy oh"
  • "Right on"
  • "Ain't no big thang"
  • "Dig it?"
  • "My man"
  • "Don't jive me"
  • "Righteous"
It is also so full of stereotypical prison movie stuff. Here are some classics:
  • There are plenty of shots of cops in birds nests with rifles but there never seem to be guards around when it really matters.
  • Everyone is carrying a shiv at all times
  • The classic outdoor weight area
  • The usual scene where the prisoner doesn't want to talk about his crime

Classic prison yard weight area
The name of the movie comes from an inscription on the stopwatch that the psychologist gives to Murphy as a gift. It says The Jericho Mile. When Murphy asks the coach what it means, he says "maybe it's got to do with the walls coming tumbling down."

Here are some of the scenes that stuck with me. 
  • The opening scene and closing scene of course. It's worth seeing it just for that.
  • The scene where the committee are telling Murphy they don't want him to run. It's just another example of this type of committee using their power to block a natural talent. If you have read any earlier posts, you'll see it in real life with Prefontaine and The Ghost Runner. 
  • There is a scene where the coach is talking to Murphy about what it is like when he is firing on all cylinders. Murphy says that he feels like he is floating. I do love that he is portrayed as a runner with heart and guts – not a technical runner. 
  • There is a touching scene after the African American gang get the prison behind building the track for Murphy. The prisoners come by his table in the cafeteria and give him food they think will help him get stronger. Murphy is moved to tears. Remember, this is a man that has gone out of his way to not be close to anyone.
  • There are a couple of running porn scenes. The one below is in slow motion and Murphy is in the zone running outside the prison. The coach is amazed by how many miles he wants to put in.
Murphy is allowed to train outside the prison

It's a fine "made for TV" movie of it's era. Fun to watch. Here's the last scene for you to enjoy:

1 comment:

  1. My friend Jim said that when he watched this movie as a kid, it made him "want to be a miler". That's awesome. It's so easy to focus on how cheesy movies of this period are and forget that they had real impact on people. I just watched the movie clip again. Awesome!

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