Yeah, it didn't make the deadline for Man Out of Prison month, but this was worth the wait.
Thanks, Scott - the floor is yours.
I’ve been reading and enjoying the Man out of Prison posts here and asked Jed for an opportunity to list some of my own. He said sure, go for it, and I started thinking. So many of these films have been made, but which ones are my favorites? I tried not to talk about movies already mentioned in this series, though once or twice I think I did include a film somebody else wrote about, mainly because I like the film too much not to discuss it.
So, here goes.
A familiar classic adapted from the David Goodis novel, but still, to this day, one of the stranger man out of prison films. It’s also a prime example of the man gets plastic surgery tale. Humphrey Bogart, in San Quentin for killing his wife, busts out of the joint, and gets his face changed. He insists he's innocent of murder, and with the help of Lauren Bacall, who he’s just met, he sets about investigating who really killed his wife. He also needs to find out who, since his escape, killed a man he considered a friend. It’s a film that noirish, for sure, but it does have a happy ending.
For whatever reason, this is still the Bogart-Bacall film that gets the least attention. I’m not sure why. I for one think it’s better than Key Largo.
A Japanese man out of prison film, Pale Flower is a black and white, widescreen beauty. A middle-aged yakuza named Muraki gets out of jail after serving a term of a few years and becomes involved with a seductive young woman, Saeko, who he discovers is a gambling addict. While he's an old-school gangster, stoical to the core, she's an impulsive thrill seeker. She's well-to-do and seems to be slumming it in the underworld. He falls for her, and it seems that the life force she possesses will be something that helps him rejuvenate himself and re-adapt to the outside world. Is this just the old story of a man achieving redemption through a woman's love? Not exactly. Saeko’s penchant for taking chances and seeking out danger actually is a full-throttled self-destructiveness, and Muraki realizes that if he stays with her, she will destroy them both. Still, can he go back to the empty life he had before he met her?
Here’s another movie where a guy out of prison, Bob Hoskins, falls for a woman. But in this case the woman, Cathy Tyson, keeps her emotions somewhat hidden so that her agenda is difficult to read. Until the very end, that is, when the protective and hopeful hero gets an unpleasant shock in the sort of twist Neil Jordan loves to deliver.
I liked Mona Lisa a lot when I first saw it, a bit less so on a second viewing years later. It’s still a film worth seeing, though, because it has a beautifully modulated bittersweet mood and a terrific feel for both its seedy London underworld and the posh hotels where Tyson’s character, a high-class prostitute, meets her clients. It also has great acting, with Hoskins playing a yearning loser type as well as he played the dynamic Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday. Every emotion Hoskins feels, you feel also. Robbie Coltrane, pre-Cracker, is his friend trying to dispense sensible advice, and it’s a pleasure when Michael Caine, as likeable an actor who ever lived, forgoes charm and gives us vicious, which he does here as a crime boss. No man out of prison film I've seen is more about romantic illusion than this one.
Alec Guinness is painter Gulley Jimson, who begins the film being released from jail after a one month sentence. He was locked up for continually harassing his patron (who’s Ernest Theisger – Dr. Praetorious in The Bride of Frankenstein) by telephone. The first day Jimson’s back on the streets, he resumes his pestering calls to his patron, and things get more unhinged from there, as Jimson proceeds to do whatever he can to secure money and find locations to paint. If that means entering a couple’s apartment when he knows the couple will be on vacation for six weeks, he’ll take over that apartment, along with his helpers and bohemian friends, so that he can do a painting on a blank wall there. Never mind that he and his eccentric crew wreck the place. Never mind that on their return the couple fall through a hole now in the floor. Jimson got his painting done, no apologies necessary, and he can move on to what he needs to do next.
Young man leaves a mental institution on parole, and said young man becomes enamored of a girl on the outside. Here we go again, with a familiar plot outline. And when the man is Anthony Perkins, disturbed, fidgety, perhaps delusional, we have to think, considering his most famous film role, that he will be the agent of destruction in this story, if destruction there will be. There is, there’s killing, but not because the parolee wanted things to happen that way.
Is there any film except this one that has a scene where the prisoner, minutes after his release, is knocking on the prison gate to get back in because he has to take a pee and doesn’t want to do it outside? That’s Buffalo 66 in a nutshell – unpredictable, eccentric, funny, sad, and somehow very true to the absurdities of life. The stories about how director/writer/star Vincent Gallo clashed on the set with cinematographer Lance Acord, Anjelica Houston and most of all Christina Ricca are well known, but however contentious the production was, he finished up with a one of a kind film.
A man who’s been out fishing comes home early and finds his wife in bed with another man. He stabs her repeatedly with a knife as she stares up into his face. When she’s dead, he covers her body with a sheet. Soaked with her blood, he rides his bicycle to the police station and turns himself in.
Try as he does to stay detached from life, complications ensue, and Yamashita’s existence becomes entangled with a woman, Keiko, whose life he saves after she attempts suicide. Keiko is as damaged as he is and comes with her own family baggage. When she begins working in his shop, a number of figures start intruding on both, and The Eel becomes a study of two people wary of each other trying to make new lives for themselves even as outside forces make things difficult for them.
In France, in the mid-size city of Nancy, a former doctor named Juliette Fontaine leaves prison and moves in with her sister, her sister’s husband and father, and the married couple’s two young adopted daughters. Juliette is a woman not without a mordant wit but whose overall demeanor is grave. She’s cerebral and at times aloof; she carries herself with the air of someone who has no time for the inessential. We don’t know why she has such reserve, but our interest is piqued. What did Juliette do, we wonder? Why did she go to jail?
A character study and family drama that revels in the details of the everyday, I’ve Loved You So Long functions as a mystery that gives up its secrets gradually. First we find out that whatever Juliette did, it was serious: she served a 15 year prison term. Then we learn that she committed murder. Next we find out the victim was her 6 year old son, and finally she reveals the motive behind the killing. To everyone in the film, her sister included, the reason behind her act comes as a revelation; during her trial, Juliette had sat in court refusing to say a word about why she killed her son.
Superbly calibrated, I’ve Long You So Long is a film that sticks with you.