12 November 2010 | telegonus
A Hail Of Bullets
I wouldn't go so far as to say that Mickey Rooney's the whole show in this movie but that wouldn't be far from the mark. This extremely violent 1959 remake of a 1932 film based on a Broadway play by John Wexley is directed in slam-bang style by Howard Koch, who does such a fine job it could just as easily be Don Siegel or Phil Karlson behind the camera. For fans of the prison genre this is a must see. It has it all.
The plot is basic stuff about doomed men in the big house, how they're treated by the guards, what motivates them, how the prison system works, as Hollywood sees it anyway. In style the film's similar to many period gangster films of its time. Rooney had already played Baby Face Nelson a couple of years earlier. He's in fine form here as a desperate inmate determined to break free. And he takes a lot of people with him in the stunning last half-hour of the film, in which the bullets are flying left and right.
Rooney's performance was so persuasive, he seemed so in tune with his character's mood swings (I don't know how else to put it) that I was practically rooting for him to make it in the end. The supporting cast is filled with some fine actors, ranging from veterans Frank Conroy and Leon Janney, up and comer Michael Constantine, the always distinguished Frank Overton, plus ex-cowboy star Donald "Red" Barry. The Last Miles must have seemed somewhat retro in its day,--prison pictures weren't common around the time it was made-and it plays well now, is curiously viscerally satisfying, and a good example of Hollywood trying to recapture some of the glory of Depression era films, and doing a damn good job of it, too.