Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Man Out of Prison: David James Keaton

Counting down to the Netflix release of Evan Katz's adaptation of Dave Zeltserman's Small Crimes I'm looking at some of my favorite in the man-out-of-prison subgenre. Today David James Keaton, co-editor of the upcoming Alcatraz prison anthology Hard Sentences, talks about his favorite man out of prison movies...

I used up my entire Spring Break editing a buncha authors' amazing stories for an Alcatraz anthology, and as interesting as that was, Jed's offer to take a break and ponder some Man Out of Prison movies was a great reprieve because 97% of the stories in Hard Sentences are about poor bastards stuck in jail and never ever getting the fuck out, except maybe through a digestive tract. So rather than researching this list too heavily I stared at the toaster for a few minutes tonight while munching on Pop Tarts until my brain retrieved five movies that fit this criteria and also had some sort of nefarious anti-authoritarian impact on Young Dave. So in no particular order...

The Getaway - I love both versions of this movie (but for the record I hate whatever inevitable third version comes out in the next couple years and uses a CGI leopard for no reason). The original I love mostly because of the scene when Steve McQueen shotguns the shit out of that cop car. This was an unusually retrained movie for a Peckinpah feature (rated PG even!), and I was only a psychology major for one semester so I'm only 100% convinced that this cop car's slo-mo murder represented the police officer Bloody Sam was contractually not allowed to gruesomely disassemble on-screen.

The 1994 remake, which teamed up another real-life couple, has its moments, too, even improving on the "thwarting the double-cross" moment when Alec Baldwin (at his gravely best) dropped that gym bag and smoothly blew away Michael Madsen, but slowing him down a bit and creating the requisite U.R.W. (Unstoppable Revenge Machine) instead. Donaldson's remake also tells the story about how Doc McCoy ended up in prison in the first place, a backstory I didn't think I wanted (I never read the book, blasphemy I know) just like showing Snake Plisskin's crime in the deleted prologue to Escape From New York actually demystified him completely. But I was surprised how well that all worked. Poor Doc's the quintessential man-out-of-prison sucker, manipulated before, during, and after his stint.

Cape Fear - Another pair of movies, but I'll stick to the remake. Often parodied, and sure De Niro is a real ham-on-rye by the end of the movie, but his seduction of the daughter is even more creepily effective today, and his prison workout is actually more inspiring than the American Psycho workout (something I never thought possible!) as it concentrates on abs rather than shoulders (he's "rising up," get it!), and everyone knows someone doing dips can be a psycho, too, but they're much more likely to have a legitimate gripe when they hit the streets. I still think the camera smacked De Niro in the chin when he first walks out of the prison gates, but luckily LaMotta never went down, Ray.

Carlito's Way - This movie will always be man-out-of-prison royalty for what has to be the greatest post-prison-release speech of all time. This had the whole audience grinning as big as Sean Penn here, and after this we'd follow poor doomed, trying-to-go-straight Carlito anywhere.
"Seems like I just got out of the joint, stood up in front of that judge and told him what was who..."

Out of Sight - Didn't Nick Nolte also get caught up in a bank robbery seconds after getting out of jail in Three Fugitives? I get that scene confused with the same sorta scene in Out of Sight, probably because Soderberg jumps around so much to keep us fuzzy about who follows what in every one of his crime movies. And usually I'm not a huge fan of the smugness that comes from Clooney's facemouth (it's tough to imagine him in jail when he'll always exude "rich man on vacation" from his every pore in every damn role) but I felt for him when he threw off that tie after bombing his job interview.

Weeds - Speaking of Nick Nolte! This is my favorite prison movie (and man-out-of-prison movie) of all time. It's also a musical extravaganza! I can't say enough about it, and won't even try, except that Nolte gives the most effective performance ever of a man who is so out of place outside of jail after his sentence of "life-without-possibility" (get it???) is overturned that he needs to literally construct a surrogate prison on stage to relive his incarceration over and over. Sort of. He even eventually takes his play on the road, then to Broadway... all then all the way back to prison, where it finally finds the audience it deserves. Still only available on VHS and it's fine if it stays there. You guys probably don't deserve it. I'm kidding! But this way you have to come over and watch it with me. I'll make the popcorn and pruno.

David James Keaton is the co-editor of the anthology Hard Sentences and the author of Stealing Propeller Hats From the Dead, The Last Projector and Fish Bites Cop: Stories to Bash Authorities. Follow him on Twitter @spiderfrogged

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