Showing posts with label William Campbell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label William Campbell. Show all posts

Monday, February 04, 2008

Cell 2455, Death Row (1955)

Posted by HJ

This film isn't really a noir, although the subject matter is noirish enough. I had recorded it off TCM a week or two ago and just got around to watching it this afternoon.

Caryl Chessman, upon whose autobiography this film is based, was a juvenile delinquent and a career criminal, some of whose crimes involved violence and some of which merited capital punishment. He was finally sentenced to death on California's interpretation of the "Little Lindbergh law," which concerned harm done to people being kidnapped. (He removed one of his rape victims from the location where he "kidnapped" her, so by subsequently raping her in fact caused bodily harm to his kidnap victim.)

This movie has all the usual boiler plate about being fiction and not representing any actual person, but with a great big "wink! wink!." The bad guy in this flick is named Whit Whittier (played with a perpetual sneer by actor William Campbell), and he comes across as a truly loathsome human being.

His parents were good folk who tried to raise him properly, but the injuries suffered by his mother in an automobile accident (making her a paraplegic) while he was a kid probably contributed to his anti-social behavior throughout his later childhood and entire adulthood.

Both the character and the real Chessman were quite intelligent, and both studied law extensively while incarcerated in order to postpone the death sentence imposed by the court on his final conviction. He was supposedly a "dead man walking" 8 times before his actual execution. This, by the way, finally took place in May of 1960, 12 years after his death sentence was imposed.

The movie was filmed in 1955, and ends with another stay of execution which resulted from his skillful use of technicalities of law. Chessman was the darling of the anti-Capital Punishment movement in the 1950s.

As I said in the beginning of this review, this is not a noir in style, but certainly in subject matter. I guess you could sneak it in the back door of the noir classification in that it's sort of a Police Procedural type of movie told from the criminal point of view.

If you'd like a fascinating little excursion away from noir to a parallel universe of crime, IMO this movie is well worth the 75 or 80 minutes it lasts.