harsens_rob (harsens_rob) wrote,
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harsens_rob

Movie Review - Buried Alive (1939)





Buried Alive

(1939)


Starring: Beverly Roberts, Robert Wilcox, Paul McVey

DIR: Victor Halperin


Blurb: A prison trustee is soon to be released from prison when he ends up stopping a bar brawl involving one of the prison guards. After some unkind press for him on the bar brawl, the convict is turned down for his early parole. Will his love for the prison nurse help him in getting past all of the people trying to keep him in prison and looking at the electric chair?


SPOILERS are inevitable in these parts. You've been warned.



Scene 01: Open on rapidly shifting stock footage of a prison and the men who are inmates.


Commentary: And, like with 'Anatomy of a Psycho', it is obvious that this film will have no restoration done whatsoever by Mill Creek for the 'Night Screams' collection. Worse, this movie is even less appropriate to the "spine chilling tales" marketing material than the other movies we've seen from this collection. But onward and upward....


Scene 02: We fade in onto a radio, where the announcer is sharing the grim news that there is to be an execution that night. We focus our attention on four men, all of whom are tense and ill-at-ease. These men are listening to the radioman give us the scoop from within an office in the prison. The prisoner was convicted of three slayings of women and the last appeal to the governor for clemency was denied.



The most deeply affected is Ernie, the man whose name the radioman has shared with the public. He'll be throwing the electric switch for $250, and is more than disgusted with himself.

In the room also is the Warden, the Doctor and The Preacher. There is some comforting talk about how Ernie isn't to blame for the execution of the inmate, it's the state that is doing this killing. He's just performing a job for the state, is all.


Commentary: *CLUNK* That would be the heavy anti-capital punishment statement being dropped to the floor like a lead anvil. Also, the soon to be switch thrower is chewing the scenery as if this is his big Oscar moment.


After over-acting-Ernie leaves, the Preacher says he's worried about him. The Doctor points out that Ernie makes a big show of things every time this unfortunate task comes up, but that he'll be fine.


Commentary: Which implies that Ernie takes on this job he's so torn up about whenever it's available... which makes me hate his drama-queen overacting even more... and makes me irritated with his character, already.


So our trio of prison elite discuss Ernie after he leaves. The Warden worries about Ernie, but The Doctor is sure that when the time arrives, he will perform his duties like the pro he is.


Scene 03: Quick shot of the clock to denote passing of time. The Warden, The Preacher and The Doctor are still hanging out in The Warden's office. A new man arrives to announce that the reporters are there. We find out that this gentleman is a trustee named Johnny. The Warden reminds him to have the guards lock him in his cell when the execution time arrives, per the usual rules. He quickly exits, assuring The Warden that he understands. Johnny Martin will of course be our main protagonist.

A trio of reporters are next entering The Warden's office. Our main reporter with the dialog is our black-hat. We can tell as he's not even pretending to not be looking forward to the coming execution scheduled. In fact, he's acting with outright glee, down to rubbing his hands together as he peppers The Warden with questions about the prisoner's last words and last meal, etc. etc.


Commentary: Subtle character acting, this movie does not have....


The Preacher and The Doctor look down their noses at The Obnoxious Reporter and quickly exit. The Reporter tells The Warden that the prisoner has what is coming to him, as he was convicted "of slugging women".


Commentary: Harsh sentence, eh? But remember that this movie was made in '39, so we can presume safely that the prisoner wasn't given a death sentence for simple assault. One can easily imagine that he punched out his victims as part of a rather more brutal crime. Which makes this scene a bit weird in context. I could tell during my first watching that obviously this guy was going to be the burr that causes our "good prisoner" no end of grief, and yet, he's being made out to be the obvious bad guy despite the fact that he's glad to see a multiple rapist be put to death. Now, the argument could be made that the state has no business killing anyone for any crime and I can accept that argument. But, instead of having the Obnoxious Reporter simply be a pro-death sentence proponent, while the actual prison staff are anti-death penalty, the movie goes out of its way to make sure that we realize that the anti-death penalty view holders are decent men, while the one pro-death penalty character with any substantive scene is such an unbearable and insufferable ass that you can feel the filmmakers views on this topic because they're smacking you upside the head while screaming in your face and holding huge placards in front of your eyes. Subtle message movie, this isn't.


So, anyway, The Warden leaves in disgust and the reporters follow along with Obnoxious Reporter lamenting that he doesn't receive the same thrill from the execution cases anymore....


Scene 04: We cut to a pretty prison hospital nurse. I kinda just want to call her PPHN for the rest of the review, since these characters are more cyphers than people, but her name is Joan Wright (Subtle, again movie makers... three guesses whether she's pro or anti death penalty).

Anyway, Joan is filling out paperwork at a desk. Poor, sympathetic Joan is obviously distressed about the upcoming execution (I'm pretty sure her middle name is 'Pureheart'.)



Our Doctor, Bob, comes into the office to speak with Joan and ask her if they're all set for their job in that night's activities. He mentions Ernie's self-pity party, which is also a well known story to Joan. Bob assures her that Ernie will do his job, as usual.

Joan asks Bob if the execution sentences ever get under his skin. He assures her that they do, but it doesn't pay to show it. Bob tries to tell Joan that she has to stop thinking about how a man will die that night. He makes explicit that the condemned didn't just 'slug the women' but that he murdered them.

A noise is on the soundtrack and Joan expresses distress. Bob tells her it's just Ernie testing the electric chair. She tells him she knows, but it scares her anyway....

Oh, Bob. He tells Joan that she doesn't belong in a prison. He offers to take her away and start a private practice somewhere when he returns from his vacation. Joan looks doubtful. It's clear that Bob is feeling things for Joan which she cannot return.

Bob tells her that he loves her, but she admits to being unsure about them. She's concerned about her choice of being a nurse or a wife, as obviously she cannot do both.


Scene 05: Over in the cellblock, our misunderstood hero is in his cell with his bunkmate. Bunkmate strikes one as a simple sort right off. He looks like Lou Costello, natters on about flowers and talks in that way that actors use to denote 'a little slow'. Johnny is tense and stands at his bars. His bunkmate asks about it, but Johnny just tells him that he's thinking about what everyone thinks about on a night like the one they're in. Remember, that execution is coming up.

Bunkmate boasts that no guards would put him in a chair, as he's strong. He asks Johnny whether he ever seen the chair.


Commentary: You'll note that Johnny is also the 'trustee' that the blurb warned us about, as he's dressed in slacks, shirt and tie. All of the other prisoners have bland jumpsuits.


We pan to our right, where another prisoner pipes in to tell Costello-alike that he's sure that Johnny has seen every square inch of the place, seeing as how he's the Warden's pet and all.

'Big Billy' defends his 'pal', as the other prisoner refers to Johnny as a fink. Big Billy repeats how strong he is and offers to show mouthy prisoner by wrapping his meaty hands around his neck. Other prisoner burns his stretching hand with his cigarette and fakey-fake-laughs.

Johnny brings up that he's up for parole in just weeks, while Bart will be stuck behind bars for 50 years.

In another cell, another prison tells them to pipe down. 2nd-Other-Prisoner is dressed snazzy suited and trying to read. He looks like a gigolo.


Scene 06: In a fade cut, we join the condemned prisoner with the Preacher. Preacher wraps up his last counciling as the guards come to take him to his fate. There is a sudden darkness that makes it hard to see anything... not a blackout or anything, it's just the bad film quality....


Scene 07: Cut to a room with cheap looking folding chairs. This would be the spectator gallery for the execution. In attendance are the reporters including slimy, repulsive jerk.

We watch woman-killer being marched into the room, we see Doctor looking pensive and we see Over-Acting-Ernie come into the electrical switch room nervously. Back with the reporters for an utterly pointless shot of SRJ.


Scene 08: Over the Preacher reciting the last rites, Over-Acting-Ernie opens a window port to look at the Warden. The Warden gives a wave of his white handkerchief, apparently a sign that the Governor hasn't called with a last minute reprieve. OA-Ernie backs slowly away to his electrical panel.


Commentary: Actually this scene is nicely acted out and one can feel the weight that Ernie is under in performing this task. If only he hadn't started the movie off with such hammy-acting, I might care a little about him and this would have been much more affecting.


OA-Ernie powers the machine for about 40 seconds or so, switches it off and wipes his sweaty palms. We got another useless shot of the reporters. And then we watch Doctor put on his stethescope and walk grimly toward the excecution chamber.


Scene 09: Back in the Warden's office, he's talking about writing an article for a national magazine someday about his experiences with capital punishment enforcement. Over-acting-Ernie is back at it, hamming his way through the scene as he complains that the execution has been ended for an hour and he doesn't want to hear any more about it.


Commentary: Which leads one to wonder why he's still even there. His job is done... leave.


Bob and Joan come in. They're remarkably smile-y for two people who just witnessed an execution. Bob is off for a vacation. The fact that we focus on Joan's smiling face and then have a quick shot of glum-Ernie also smiling widely makes me think that Ernie has an unrequited thing going with Joan.

Ernie, back to glum, expresses the wish that he could also find a substitute so he could go away for a year, rather than the month that Bob will be gone.


Commentary: Oh, shut up Ernie! You don't have to do the job, you choose to for the extra cash as already established you jackhole.


Alas, Joan doesn't repeat my commentary, but rather crosses over to him to raise his hopes so she can dash them later with the ol' "let's just be friends" (Okay, I don't remember if this happens, but it sure seems likely).

Bob is still all smiles. He's taking Joan home before leaving and Ernie invites himself along through her to be dropped off at the bar. Joan doesn't mind and expresses sympathy for his plight. She tries to tell Ernie that she understands how he feels with that whole death penalty thing, but Ernie - being a sour puss, self loathing egotist, only responds that he wonders if anyone really knows how he feels....


Commentary: Thanks, Joan. Thanks a lot. Next time, why don't you stay on your own side of the room?


The threesome (ew, no!) leave. The Warden is left with the Preacher. They share boring talk. The Preacher reveals that he's ALSO in love with Joan. Everyone loves Joan; she's a regular Mary Sue Man-Magnet.

The Preacher also reveals to The Warden that he's aware of Ernie's interest in Joan as well, a fact that comes as a surprise to The Warden, who had no idea despite the only smile Ernie showing up until now being in her Glowy-Sue Presence. In fact, the Preacher reveals that Ernie told him months ago that she's the only reason that he stays there at all.

Somehow, The Warden doesn't express his undying love for Joan, too.


Scene 10: In the car, Joan, Bob and Ernie are on their way to the (sparsely furnitured and extrad) bar. Their driver is prison trustee, Johnny.

Joan expresses concern for gloomy-Ernie's drinking his sorrows away. Ernie takes this opportunity to again play the 'woe is me' card through his grin. Bob is remarkably patient with this nonsense. Joan, being the woman, doesn't tell him to stop being a self-involved whiner and instead radiates nothing but soulful concern.


Commentary: If only this was Supernatural... he'd be killed by ghosts of his victims already. If only this was BTVS, he'd be ... well, killed by ghosts already but in a less grim way. If only this was AtS, he'd be cursed with something that could give Angel a good case of angst over how it's just so much like his own curse. But, it's none of those. And, Ernie won't be Buried Alive, either.


But back to our dreary and uncomfortable car ride: Joan finally has enough of his self-pity party.


Scene 11: Back in the car, Bob expresses his desire for Joan to come with him. She takes a raincheck. Johnny uses the break in their conversation to ask the Doctor about his cellmate, Billy.

He reports that Big Billy has been saying some strange things lately. Johnny compares Big Billy and his situation to the main characters in "Of Mice and Men". Johnny convinces Bob that when he gets back, he'll talk to the Warden about getting Billy transferred to a prison farm where he'd have more freedom of movement. Johnny worries, you see, that Billy may be cracking up a bit under the strain of imprisonment.


Scene 12: The car arrives at Bob's backscreen projection apartment building, which dances merrily behind them as Bob expresses how much he'll miss her while in Bermuda. Conversation turns back to Ernie again, as Joan worries over his state of mind. She tells Bob that she'll stop by the bar to pick him up and make sure he gets home without doing anything foolish. He grins and blah, blah reminding her that he should be jealous (as if!) since he's asked her to marry him nine times (dude... have some pride) and is still waiting for her acceptance.

They wish each other goodbye, with Bob looking like he wants to get something a bit more warm than a limp handshake from her. She leaves his desire unfulfilled.


Scene 13: In the bar, loud mouth reporter is blah-blahing with his opinion of the execution. At a table, Ernie has his bottle of whiskey, rye, whatever. He hears loud mouth pontificating. The reporter is drunk and when he spots Ernie walking to the men's room, he can't help but grab him to make an ass of himself. Ernie goes off about them being vultures.

Drunk loud mouth reporter doesn't take kindly to that and slaps him. Ernie punches him out.

Hilariously, this creates a brawl among the whole seven guys in the place. Two of which, were drinking together at a table quietly but now are suddenly ready to pummel each other senseless for no observable reason. Apparently bar fights between glum executioners and loud mouth reporters is instantly contagious.




Scene 14: Outside, unsuspecting Joan and Johnny arrive at the bar. Johnny makes the mistake of going in to fetch Ernie for Joan. Inside is as much pandemonium as a handful of men can make with a room so sparsely furnished.

Johnny is able to rush out with Ernie, which even the second time watching this one took me by surprise. Wasn't Johnny supposed to get caught in a bar brawl and put his parole at risk?

Well, nevermind, we're in the car again. I will note that Johnny took a bottle to the head in the bar and his hat didn't even come off.


Scene 15: Ernie is relating to Joan about how the bar fight started. In the meanwhile, Johnny is feeling a bit woozy and starts to lose control of the car. He passes out at the wheel and the car slowly careens into a pole, with Ernie overly-acting again.

As Joan and Ernie see to Johnny, they discover that the glass has cut his neck and he's losing blood rapidly, though we don't see any of it.

They bundle him into the backseat to rush him to the hospital.


Scene 16: Back in the bar, the guys settle up with the barkeep for the damages they helped inflict. Obnoxious Reporter asks about the guy that broke up the fight (and more importantly had decked him) and is told he was a driver for the prison. Apparently everyone knows Johnny, except Obnoxious Reporter, because the Barkeep knows that he's an inmate. In addition, one of the background guys tells Obnoxious Reporter how swell a guy Johnny is.

This does nothing to deter Obnoxious Reporter from looking for his form of payback for the shiner he'll be sporting in the morning.

He excitedly asks the other guys for their opinion of his next headline:

State Executioner Drunk - Starts Brawl. Warden's Convict Chauffer Attacks Newspaper Man


To which I say, A) It's too long for a headline, B) It's too wordy, C) You're overacting, D) How convenient that you've pledged to make sure the trustee never gets out if he ever comes up for a parole hearing, just as he's about to do that very thing.




Scene 17: Presumably the next day, Joan is seeing to her prison hospital ward patients, which include Johnny recovering from the cut on his neck. Joan's touch of Johnny's wrist to check his pulse starts Johnny thinking about some things he hasn't thought about in three years. Joan looks at the bandage on Johnny's wound and asks him how he ended up in the joint.

We get to hear Johnny's tale of a misspent youth, while the Warden - who happened to start entering the ward - stops to listen with a sympathetic grin on his face.


Commentary: I'm at a loss as to why this movie is rated 5 on IMDB. It certainly isn't bad per se, but it also isn't very well written and the script is pushing way too hard to make sure that we know Johnny is just an 'aw-shucks' kinda guy, even though he ended up in prison. Nurse Joan is practically causing men to tumble for her whenever she walks by and everyone is so earnest, except the deliberately obnoxious Obnoxious Reporter, that it makes my eyes hurt watching them. Or, I'm just a bitter and bitchy cynic... you make the call.


Johnny Earnest asks Joan-Sue why she stays in the prison clinic, but she doesn't have a ready answer. For some reason, the Warden finds this all sweet and he backs out with a smile so we don't know why he stopped by to begin with.


Scene 18: Later in the Warden's office, Ernie is being read the riot act for Obnoxious Reporter's headline. He managed to also squeeze in a demand for an investigation.

The Obnoxious Reporter's story is just as inflammatory as the overlong headline. Ernie tries to resign, but the Warden won't hear of it as that would only add fuel to Obnoxious Reporter's fire. As The Warden and the Executioner debate fighting Manning's outrageous claims, the Governor rings through. The Warden is ordered to report before a board with the Governor and the State Attorney to investigate the brawl described in Obnoxious Reporter's article.

Ernie again offers his resignation to the Warden if it will help him out of the hot water that he's helped cause, but the Warden refuses. As he heads out to the capitol, Ernie then tells the Warden that he doesn't want anything to happen to Johnny either for his intervention to help him. The Warden promises that he won't let Johnny be scapegoated over that Obnoxious Reporter's scandal sheet of a paper - the only one that has even reported on the brawl, by the way.


Scene 19: At the capitol, the State's Attorney tells Warden that Johnny's parole hearing is going to have to be delayed due to this scandal until things cool down with Obnoxious Reporter. He warns the Warden to delay his review for a year or so. The Warden refuses with indignation, promising to let Johnny's parole hearing go forward with his full recommendation that it be granted.

The Governor isn't pleased with his recalcitrance in this matter and tells him he won't risk any more negative press about the bar incident because of the Warden's soft heart and head.

The Warden defiantly tells the Governor that when the parole board meets, he'll be there standing on Johnny's behalf and storms out.



Scene 20: Back in his office, the Warden is discussing things with self-pitying Ernie and Joan. Ernie naturally brings the entire subject around to his hating his role as the state's executioner and how everything happening is all his fault.

Joan's look pretty much says it all, "This isn't about you, you self-involved asshole."



Alas, Joan doesn't actually say as much. She does tell him to stop feeling sorry for himself and focus on saving Johnny's chances of getting released.

Joan asks the Minister if there is anything he can think of to help. He's been sitting offscreen on the Warden's desk. He has nothing to add, except that Johnny should be prepared ahead of time in case his parole is turned down by the board due to the fall out of Obnoxious Reporter's story.

The Minister presses Joan into talking to Johnny about what may happen next.


Scene 21: In his hospital bed, Johnny is doodling. He quickly hides this when Joan enters. As he is prattling on, she finds the newspaper he was doodling on and it's filled with hearts with J & J all over them.

Johnny is looking forward to his parole hearing and release from prison. He also tries to build up to telling Joan he'd like to see her outside of prison when all is said and done. Johnny admits his love to Joan, though he doesn't figure there would be any reciprocation. He just wants her to know he's going to try to do good in her honor. Joan, struggling to find a way to tell him that he may not be getting out as quickly as he thought, begins to weep for him.

They share a laugh over some childhood story of Johnny's through her tears.


Commentary: Ouch. Robert Wilcox does a pretty good job of playing Johnny throughout the movie... sure he's a bit too earnest, but that is a general script problem for everybody who isn't an Obnoxious Reporter. But this scene... he cannot do a fake laugh to save his life... please make it stop.


Joan kisses him on the forehead and admits that there may be a way for them to see each other outside of the prison's walls. I note however that she didn't even try to approach the fact that he may not be released due to the bar scuffle, which is what she was supposed to be doing.

Johnny is left happily stunned, rather than prepared for his bitter disappointment coming.


Scene 22: Joan in the meantime has gone straight to the Minister to tell him about her feelings for Johnny. He asks if she's sure, and she is.


Commentary: There is an odd moment here, right after Joan spills and before he asks if she's sure. Now, we know that Ira is also in love with Joan, along with Bob and Ernie and Johnny. We also know that he's assumed that Joan and Bob will be married eventually and that is the end of it. But here, and I'm not sure if this is deliberate or just the film stock or what, but I could swear that The Minister just became a psychopath in this moment. There is something about his eyes behind his glasses that immediately made me think he was about to strangle Joan even though I think he's supposed to be conveying surprise and envy rather than calculated rage. If you watch this film, watch his eyes carefully.

Anyway, the moment passes and he's all sympathy.


Joan asks if she's wrong to love a convict, which he denies. He tells her that either way Johnny is very lucky. Joan thanks him for assuring her and leaves.



The Minister then starts to perform 'The Robot'?? Oh, I see, we're getting a replay of the dialog from 10 seconds ago so we can see Ira's heartbreak over Joan not being in love with him, even though you'd think he would have dealt with that fact when her and Bob were supposed to be getting serious. I guess he just kept a little hope alive that she'd realize Doctor Bob was a dullard and come into his arms. Sorry, dude. (But that pose is still making me think you're thinking about strangling Joan, and if this were actually a "Night Screams Collection" appropriate story, maybe he would have....)


Scene 23: We fade out and in on Johnny driving the Warden to Johnny's parole hearing. Johnny is all smiles about the assurance of his parole, since nobody has bothered to prepare him for the political tug of war going on over at the Governor's office.


Scene 24: Fade cut to Johnny before the parole hearing board, where he has been turned down. The barman and the Obnoxious Reporter are there as witnesses against the parole being granted. Ernie and the Warden are there to argue on behalf of Johnny. The bartender has spun a lie about Johnny being drunk, but why I don't know. Apparently he's just good freinds with Obnoxious Reporter or something.

Ernie tries to tell what really happened, but is dismissed out of hand. The Warden tries to say a few words, but there is little impact on the board's decision: Denied.

Johnny is told he can try again in 6 months, but doesn't exactly react well to this news. He threatens the head of the board with a date when he's released (although he only threatens to spit in his eye, I'm choosing to regard this as a euphemism, otherwise it's a pretty tepid reaction).


Scene 25: In the car on the way back to the prison, Johnny is bitter and despondant. The Warden tries to soften the blow, but Johnny knows that Manning will be at every parole hearing seeing to it that he serves the entire two years of his remaining sentence.

They pull up to a red light and Johnny sees his chance to make a run for it for the Canadian border some 62 miles away. The Warden sees his wheels turning and warns him against the attempt. The moment passes and he doesn't take his chance to bail and run.


Scene 26: Back in the prison ward, the prisoners are quiet and subdued. This is apparently because they all miss swell guy, Johnny.

Anyway, a guard is making his rounds and greets Big Billy. When the prisoner doesn't respond, he gets belligerent toward him. Big Billy threatens to squeeze his neck until it pops, being sore toward this guard for beating him with his nightstick the day before. Big Billy tells the guard that Johnny figured out a way to get out of prison because he's smart. Well, Big Billy claims to be smart too and will figure a way out as well.

The guard, a prick, informs Billy about the news that has already infiltrated through the rank and file that Johnny will be returning for a continuing stint as his parole has been denied.

Prisoner-who-thinks-Johnny-is-a-fink is overjoyed by this news. Big Billy is much less so.


Scene 27: Back in the car with Warden, Ernie and Johnny, the Warden commiserates with Johnny. He tells him that he'll do what he can to make his remaining time easier and mentions Joan. Johnny asks him where he heard about Joan and him and the Warden states that she told him (we didn't see this, she told the Minister, not the Warden). Johnny is happy that she openly admitted her feelings about him, but in the backseat, all of this is coming as quite a shock to Ernie.


Scene 28: Back at the prison, Joan is again with Minister in his office. She's upset and afraid to see Johnny again, scared that he'll be bitter toward the decision. Ira tries to be supportive, suggesting that they'll help him avoid being negative about the parole denial.

He tells Joan that she can help him look forward to his eventual release, rather than at the present.


Scene 29: In the prison yard, Johnny, The Warden and Ernie finally arrive back. In another blow to Johnny, he looks up at the Minister's office just in time to see Joan and Ira's shadows against the drawn window shade. Clearly Joan only kissed Ira on the cheek for his support, but from Johnny's viewpoint, it appears that Joan was kissing Ira in a romantic fashion. Ernie also sees Joan and Ira from his vantage point. But this is about Johnny.

He rages at The Warden, feeling like a chump for not taking the chance to run when it was there. He informs him that he quits as his driver and from now on he's going to look out for number one, instead of trying to get along.

The Warden accepts this, informing Johnny that if that is the way he feels then all of his privileges as a 'trustee' are thereby revoked.


Scene 30: In the Warden's office, he's expressing his disappointment in Johnny's sudden recalcitrant behavior to Joan, Ernie and Ira. Minister suggests it was the sight of the prison and the sudden realization that he could be stuck there another two years that caused his sudden rant. But Ernie, who is feeling something similar because of his own attraction to Joan, suggests that he also saw the shadow on the window shade.

Joan asks to be allowed to speak to Johnny so she can staighten out the whole misunderstanding, which The Warden allows.


Scene 31: Joan explains the whole thing to the bitter Johnny about how she kissed the Minister for being so kind to her in her hour of need. Oh, the relief!


Commentary: So much for that whole plot development. What the hell was the point, if things were wrapped up that quickly?


Scene 32: Johnny is just as quickly reinstated as a trustee and prison car driver. (Who apparently is allowed to drive completely unsupervised since he picks up the returning Doctor alone. Even more strange from a security standpoint, Johnny is allowed to drive around in a vehicle that is unmarked as a prison vehicle and is allowed to wear a civilian suit leaving no indication at all that he is a prisoner. He could just as easily drive away anywhere right now. Now even if he is trusted, it doesn't seem like this would be following any sort of department procedure.)


Commentary: See above, i.e. the point of that development. Also, there is a weird transition scene, but I can't tell if it's continuity error or just film quality. When Johnny picks up the doctor, I could swear it's supposed to be night. But Johnny turns a back projected corner, and suddenly it's clearly daytime out of the back window....


In the car, Johnny tries a bit of small talk, while the Doctor uncomfortably asks about what has happened while he's been gone. Clearly, he at least knows about Johnny's parole denial. But, we also find out here that Joan wrote the Doctor about her and Johnny.


Commentary: Nice of her to ruin Bob's vacation by breaking the news that she's dumping his ass for a prisoner via letter....


Johnny asks if Bob was sweet on Joan, too, and the Doctor admits he asked Joan to marry him... he doesn't mention that he'd done so repeatedly. Johnny asks if he's sore at him, but the Doctor says he isn't a bit.



Bob tells Johnny that he's pulling for the both of them, which is awfully magnanimous of him under the circumstances. Although, really, Bob should have seen that Joan was going to find somebody else with her rather lackluster commitment to being with him from the start.


Commentary: If everyone loves Joan-Sue, it's become obvious that no good guy can dislike Johnny-Stu either. Which sort of limits the dramatic impact of any of this on the audience, despite some very good acting. There just isn't any conflict between the good guys to make any of this love pentagon resonate.


When they get out of the car on the prison grounds, they're all smiles with each other. Bob promises to get to that talk with Big Billy mentioned before he went on vacation. Johnny is grateful as he mentions that Big Billy has been acting worse lately (which I suppose was supposed to be indicated by that scene with the guard, but really wasn't).


Scene 33: Johnny, having performed his driver duties is returned to the cell he shares with Big Billy. The guard tells Billy he's going to the hospital, but Billy says he isn't sick, he's strong. Johnny tells him the Doctor just wants to talk to him, but the guard tells him to butt out for no real reason but to be an asshole.

As the guard completely turns his back on a prisoner who had already threatened to choke him to death, Big Billy unshockingly takes the opportunity to do just that. Johnny calls from his cell for Billy to stop what he's doing, but he has the guard on his back and is throttling him.

Another guard comes in and hits Billy over the back of the head, but the big guy is able to drag the guard down to the floor. Johnny exclaims that Billy killed the asshole guard. He grabs through the bars in order to grab the keys to the cell to let himself out, presumably to stop Big Billy from killing second guard.


Commentary: You're right. It seems highly unlikely that the second guard would rush in without raising an alarm for backup....


Johnny grabs Big Billy as he's choking out second guard, who gets the name Mike as he's being killed. Johnny tries to tell Billy that Mike is a good guy, but Big Billy is on a guard killing rampage. In the meanwhile, prisoner-who-calls-Johnny-a-fink is excited over the mayhem as he watches. His cellmate apparently isn't, or is off on a work detail since he isn't at the bars.

Anyway, Johnny is knocked off of Billy's back and hits his head stunning him. Big Billy takes off on a slow, half-jog to freedom, exclaiming he finally found a way out....


Commentary: Now, I thought this was being set up for Prisoner-Name-Caller to shank Johnny or at least try to strangle him with his tie or something, but no. He just stands there being irrelevant to the scene.


Scene 34: Johnny chases after Big Billy out into the yard. Big Billy is spotted by a guard on a roof. Without any warning, the guard starts opening fire down at the mildly jogging convict. Big Billy ignores Johnny's cries for him to stop as he half-heartedly chases after Billy.

Big Billy gets gunned down by those bullets that teleport through clothing and doesn't cause people to bleed.

Johnny, being suddenly stupid, runs out after his friend since there are apparently no guards that respond to all of the gunfire taking place outside. He's summarily gunned down as well.


Commentary: I have to admit, I didn't see that one coming... not about Big Billy, that guy was already doomed. I didn't see Johnny getting shot down, though.



Johnny manages to be only injured and crawls to Billy's fallen body as the guards exchange a glance. They're still up on the rooftop, apparently without any sort of way to inform anyone in the buildings that there is an escape in progress, as we still see no guards swarming over the grounds.

Johnny has also been hit with teleporting bullets, as he has no signs of any wounds either. He weeps over Billy, having checked his pulse and found nothing just before he blacks out.


Scene 35: Johnny wakes up in the prison hospital, under the worrying gaze of Joan. He asks after Billy and it is confirmed the big lug was killed. Joan asks why Johnny did it, but he blacks out after asking her what she's talking about.

Minister Ira is nearby, distressed by the pain of his unrequited love, Joan. Ira helps Joan to her feet so she can cry on his shoulder.

It becomes obvious that there has been another misunderstanding. Johnny is assumed to have tried to escape with Big Billy after the death of a guard (apparently second guard, Mike, survived).

Joan is devastated.


Scene 36: We cut to sometime later, in which a trial for Johnny over his attempted escape and the guard's death is being wrapped up. The prosecution's case is full of twisted 'facts' provided by prisoner-who-hates-Johnny-for-being-a-fink. Naturally, the jury has no compunction about taking one lifer's word over the testimony of, presumably, the entire prison staff about Johnny's reputation, just like the parole board didn't bother listening. I also notice that despite everyone thinking the rag Obnoxious Reporter is a shit, no one apparently will speak out against him either for reasons unknown. Finally, either Mike is too injured to provide testimony, or he wasn't able to completely clear Johnny in his attack because it is never mentioned that Big Billy did all of the attacking while Johnny was pleading with him to stop.

Ergo, without surprise, he's convicted again.


Scene 37: Some time later, we're in the Warden's office again with our main prison staff. Over the radio we hear the news that Johnny had been convicted in the death of the guard and had been sentenced to execution. Joan is distraught, while the men around her are all grim.

It seems that it takes Joan's breakdown before the Warden bothers to call the Governor to place a hold on Johnny's execution. Request denied, because no one listens to the Warden's word.

Joan leaves for her room to sit in the dark.


Commentary: There is a great line for the distraught Joan where she tells Minister-Ira she's going to sit in the dark so she won't see the lights dim when they turn on the electric chair....


Scene 38: In the cellblock, Prisoner-who-hates-Johnny is pacing. His gigolo-looking cellmate wonders at his sudden need to walk back and forth. They exchange words with the cellmate suggesting that Prisoner-who-hates-Johnny might be feeling a bit of regret that Johnny is on his way to the chair.

Cellmate goes on to suggest that perhaps Prisoner-who-thinks-Johnny-is-a-fink may have skipped a few details in his testimony, though he claims not to care one way or the other. He makes a few pointed comments about Johnny waiting for Prisoner-who-hates-Johnny on the otherside, but P-w-h-J blows this off.


Scene 39: In the meantime, Ira is with Johnny reading the 'yea, though I walk through the shadow of death' speech to him. Johnny wonders about Joan and when Ira mentions she's in her room, he instinctively knows she'll be in the dark to avoid the lights flicker that will let her know he's been executed....


Scene 40: At the same time, Prisoner-Fink-Caller and his cellmate are pensively waiting for Johnny to be no more. Cellmate turns the screws a bit more on Prisoner-who-hates-Johnny's apparent growing guilt as Johnny's fate draws closer and closer.



Commentary: We haven't been able to get a read on this guy, which I like even if it was done by accident because he's such a minor character. We can't tell if he's pushing his lifer-cellmate to come out with the truth for Johnny's sake, or if he just likes to see the guy squirming. I'm enjoying the actor's oily and ambiguous recitation of his lines....


Suddenly, the guards show up for Prisoner-Fink-Caller, but they won't tell him why....


Scene 41: Ernie goes to the electric generator room for the chair to get set up. The Warden escorts reporters into the witness room. Among them is Obnoxious Reporter Guy of course. He tastelessly tells the Warden that all they need now is some popcorn and peanuts for the show....


Commentary: Again, the reporters around him seem to regard Obnoxious with nothing but contempt, which makes me wonder why they're always around him if he's such a jackhole. In addition, I wondered briefly why the Warden wouldn't have this particular reporter barred from the prison grounds if he's this objectionable all of the time. But then I remembered how no one respects the Warden's word anyway, so I suppose nobody would listen to his prohibition anyway.


Scene 42: On death row, Prisoner-Hates-Johnny is brought to Johnny's cell. He's told he's being given the chance to say good-bye to his 'friend', which he refuses on the grounds that Johnny was a fink.


Commentary: It is right here that I began to think that this isn't right. I didn't know if it was another stupid script moment, or if it is just a stupid plan, but I started to believe Johnny wasn't going to get executed and that Prisoner Hater was being set up to admit the truth of Johnny's innocence in the guard's death. But, that doesn't seem to comport with the obvious anti-death penalty stance that was so heavy handed at the beginning of the movie. What better way to make your point than Johnny getting electricuted for a crime he tried to stop? On the other hand, surely the movie won't force Joan to go on alone...? Hmmm.


Johnny is marched out and Fink-Caller demands to be returned to his cell. He's informed that they've saved him a seat to watch the execution, though and he's marched after Johnny.


Scene 43: Minister Ira reads last rites as Johnny is marched to his fate. Prisoner-Hater is given the opportunity to watch events unfold from the electric generator chamber that Ernie works out of.


Commentary: Unfortunately, there is a really stupid series of cutaways here that I'm going to have to explain now. Throughout the movie, whenever Glum-Ernie has looked out of his little viewport, we've been shown the execution witness room... every single time. It is clear that Ernie's vantage point is out on this room, rather than the execution room itself. First, this makes no sense. Why would the executor need to check on the witnesses? Second, how are they going to pressure Prisoner-Hating-Johnny to either deal with his guilt over what he's led them to do to Johnny, or to break down and confess his lies by having him look at the reporters looking at the execution chamber??

Now, we never see the electric chair itself or see anyone within the execution room. We can assume that this is for the mores of the time and it was considered unacceptable to actually show a prisoner being strapped into the device itself. But if that was a limitation, it still makes zero sense to cut away to a view of the reporters sitting in their chairs as Ernie would see them through the viewport. They could have simply eliminated these cutaways and left us with the clear assumption that Ernie's viewport looked into the room where the execution is being carried out.

A few reaction shots and we have a tense and nauseating sense of what Ernie sees without them having to run up against censors of the day. This would then make sense that Johnny's preparation for execution is being directly witnessed by Prisoner-who-Lied and is putting the screws to whatever conscience he may have.

The way that this port apparently looks out onto the witness box, though, undercuts any sense that Prisoner-Liar-on-Johnny is being driven to break down as he actually sees his victim about to be fatally electricuted for lying.

Now, the point of this viewport is so that Ernie can see the Warden pull the handerkerchief from his pocket as a sign that there will be no last minute commute of the sentence and he's free to proceed. This does make sense in as far as that goes, but it still doesn't have the emotional punch and sense of tension that should be playing on the nerves of Prisoner-Big-Lie. I wish this small part of things had been set up differently to really pay this moment its due....



So, the Warden can't put it off any longer and gives Ernie the sign to begin.

He turns on the juice for the required time and Prisoner-Can't-Tell-the-Truth claims that he has witnessed what's been done and he's fine with it, though that doesn't seem true either. And, of course, he didn't witness it because of the clear view of the viewport already discussed.

Anyway, the guards order him out to be escorted back to his cell.


Scene 44: Naturally, Big-Liar now spills everything about how Johnny was innocent in the guard's death and now they're all murderers, blah-blah-blah because he can't just keep his mouth shut and cause the whole clever plan of the Warden's to unravel.

So, of course, Innocent-Johnny is brought in to show that Big-Liar-with-a-Big-Mouth was duped all along....


Scene 45: Later in the Warden's office, Johnny is handed a pardon. Big smiles and hugs all around.

Johnny expresses to Joan how grateful he is after coming so close to death. Ernie tells him that wouldn't have happened. He had a letter of resignation ready in case he had to go through with the real thing. There was no way he was going to throw the switch on someone he knew to be innocent of the crime for which he was sentenced to the chair.

In addition, he tells the Warden that the resignation stands however. He tells them all that he's bought a little farm and he's out of the prison business for good.


The End.




The Good: Both Beverly Roberts and Robert Wilcox do very well as Joan and Johnny with what the script gives them.

Although inappropriate for this collection, as a prison drama the movie is relatively well made for what the script provides.

George Pembroke also handles his one or two quiet scenes with remarkable aplumb.

Don Rowan also does some good work as the simple minded and going stir crazy Big Billy.


The Bad: The script is heavy handed in all aspects. The Good Guys are so good it's ridiculous, the Bad Guys are boo-hiss, and the anti-death penalty opening is so heavy handed you'll feel like they should hand you some aspirin for the headache the anvil is going to cause.

The number of main male characters in love with Joan is ridiculous, despite the fine work from Beverly. It's also annoying that she isn't give a single flaw in the whole movie. Even when she's stringing Bob along only to dump him while he's on vacation, no one calls her out on anything.

If Joan is practically a saint, Manning is her opposite. This obnoxious reporter isn't given a single frame when he isn't being a douchebag. It's impossible to believe that he would continue to be allowed to witness any executions after his loud and utterly disrespectful behavior toward the whole solemn thing. He also never gets any comeuppance about his exaggerated lies regarding Johnny's involvement in the bar fight or any reaction from him when he's given not just a parole, but a pardon.

That ending is pretty cheap, too. For the Governor to refuse him a parole based on the bar fight, but to apparently later pardon him completely when he's exonerated of the guard's murder seems far too pat. One has nothing to do with the other, and since it is strongly implied that Johnny was denied parole for political reasons, it is entirely ridiculous that the Governor would follow this up with a pardon.


Other Thoughts: Though the actors are generally good, George Pembroke and Wheeler Oakman not only overplay their roles painfully but the script does them no favors by being repetitive. Ernie spends the entire film being self-involved, self-loathing and unsympathetic. Manning can't open his mouth without making sure we know he's a unrepetent jerk.

I also found both Joan and Johnny to start getting cloying after a while. In fact, all of the good guys are so earnest that they just aren't real people.


The Score: This wasn't a bad film to watch once, but I also didn't find it to be all that engrossing either. I did like Robert Wilcox a lot, though there were a few points when he didn't sell the treacly writing of the script. Beverly is strong in most of her scenes, but again the problem here was an over-earnest and bland script:

2.75 out of 5



-end-
Tags: review buried alive_1939
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