The Last Mile (1959) DVD Review: Mickey at His Rooniest

Prior to their great success in the British horror film industry with the highly prolific Amicus Productions, American-born filmmakers Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky cranked out a number of tiny-budgeted movie musicals that were mostly aimed at teenage audiences. In 1959, just a year away from producing the atmospheric classic Horror Hotel, Milton and Max fashioned a minor prison drama called The Last Mile, which was based on the popular 1930 play by John (Angels with Dirty Faces) Wexley — a project that had been filmed several times before as well as produced many times onstage.

But, whereas the original play sported such talent as Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable portraying the story’s fiendish protagonist, “Killer” Mears — a character that was brought to life onscreen by Preston Foster — this 1959 Rosenberg/Subotsky version stars none other than former child star Mickey Rooney. Seriously, it does. I guess Mickey figured since James Cagney went from his tough guy image to being a singer/dancer, he could do the same thing in reverse. And nobody can go backwards quite like Mickey Rooney — which is clearly evident here.

As “Killer” Mears, Rooney is both laughable and menacing. He is truly the personification of that wacky little short guy you always see at the bar that threatens to beat everybody up at the drop of a hat. But Mears is far more menacing: he’s pure Death Row material — which is understandable since The Last Mile is all about a group of men on Death Row. Tormented by their own personal demons and the cruel prison staff alike (there’s a nice disclaimer at the beginning of the film saying “Look, we don’t hire sadistic creeps like that anymore in the penal system. Honest!”), we witness the drama of several men waiting to die.

Now, if that sort of thing appeals to you in the first place (and, strangely enough, it does for many people — and not just the prison guards and ex-felons out there, either), then you might also look forward to the exciting, violent finale of The Last Mile wherein our Death Row inmates revolt from their malicious captors and gain control of the prison wing. Here, we see Mickey Rooney at his most diabolical — something that surely has to be seen to be believed — and can either launch you into hysterics or horror depending on your point of view.

Also starring Frank Overton, Michael Constantine, Clifford Davis, Johnny Seven, Don “Red” Barry, and Clifton James, The Last Mile’s script was written by Mr. Subotsky and Pete’s Dragon co-creator Seton I. Miller, with Howard W. Koch (Pharaoh’s Curse) directing. Never before available on home video in the United States, the all but forgotten The Last Mile makes a DVD debut courtesy MGM’s Limited Edition Collection series. The Manufactured-on-Demand DVD-R is a nice one indeed, and presents the film in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio with mono English sound (which brings out the best in Van Alexander’s score).

Definitely worth a peek.

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Luigi Bastardo

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