A Movie A Day: THE RACK (1956)
Why didn’t you die like your brother did? It would have been much better that way.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
We keep our Paul Newman run going strong with a fascinating obscure film called THE RACK. Interestingly enough yesterday’s Paul Newman vehicle, THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS, turned into a courtroom drama in the final act and this film finds Newman in court again, this time the defendant, not the defense.
I call this movie fascinating because of the cast and creative force behind it. Check this out:
You have Paul Newman as a young Korean war veteran who was tortured by the Chinese and newly released after 3 years of prison camp abuse.
Walter Pidgeon (the reason I’ve always had trouble spelling “pigeon” by the way) of FORBIDDEN PLANET, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY and tons of other well known flicks that I won’t bore with listing off here plays Newman’s strict Army dad who finds pride in his son for the first time upon his return only to have that turn sour when he finds out his son is brought up on collusion charges.
The absolutely gorgeous Anne Francis (also in FORBIDDEN PLANET as well as the awesome Glenn Ford flick BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, co-starring Sidney Poitier) plays Newman’s sister-in-law in the difficult position of having to support Newman while secretly wishing his brother, her husband, had been the one to come home.
AMAD favorite Edmond O’Brien (DOA) plays Wasnick, Newman’s Polish Army defense lawyer, REAR WINDOW’s Wendell Corey is the sympathetic prosecuting attorney, Lee Fucking Marvin as a fellow POW survivor and main accuser and witness for the prosecution and Cloris Leachman is the neighbor lady who comforts Francis for one scene.
If the pedigree in front of the camera wasn’t enough, guess who scripted this movie? Rod Serling! He’s credited on IMDB with teleplay, but on the movie he was given co-screenwriter credit with Stewart Stern (REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE).
Director Arnold Laven is more known for directing TV, but he did helm a noir called WITHOUT WARNING! that sounds sweet as hell… a dude has wife troubles, so he picks up girls who look like her and butchers them with garden shears! Gotta pick that one up…
Anyway, THE RACK is a dark look at the after effects of war and the breaking point of a man. What’s interesting is The Rack of the title isn’t a physical torture device, but a mental one. Newman was mentally tortured, deprived of human contact, left in a lightless room with a wet floor, not allowed to sleep for any length of time, etc.
The army can’t accept this as it’s not the torture they know, the physical horrors that the men are trained to resist.
What’s interesting is that when you begin to hear testimony against Newman as the trail starts (about halfway through the movie) you actually start to think less of him. We’ve gotten to know him, see his guilt. We like this guy, but when the trial starts and we hear the stories of him working with the Chinese we can’t help but feel a little angry with him.
What I loved about this film was how there were no absolutes. Newman did do bad things, but is he excused those things when we find out why he did them, how he reached that point? The prosecutor almost doesn’t take the case because of Newman’s substantial service record, feeling the country would be betraying one of her biggest champions because he lost his way under tremendous duress. When Corey does ultimately take the case, he doesn’t let up, but you still get a few moments of humanity, of sympathy, from him.
Francis has to find it within herself to be the support Newman needs, to make him stand up and stop feeling sorry for himself, even though he will always represent her lost love, her dead husband.
Walter Pidgeon, though, is a standout here. He has a moment with Newman after hearing some unpleasant truths about how Newman viewed him growing up, how his dead son and wife probably looked at him, and he just cracks, all the properly pent up emotion of his life exploding out of him in a torrent. It’s a goose-bump moment and really hit me hard.
Now Newman himself, surprisingly, is the weak link in the movie. If I read this right, he filmed this movie before SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME, which was his big calling card as a lead, but THE RACK was released after that movie. Newman is undisciplined here. He doesn’t seem to have learned where the lines are and there are many points where he steps over those lines and overacts something fierce.
However, he’s still Paul Newman, so the character survives these moments on his charm and natural instinct alone. But it is fascinating to watch a rough performance from Newman, seeing the learning curve as it unfolds in his career.
It is also interesting to see him once again share the screen with Lee Marvin, who co-starred with Newman some 16 years later in the misfire POCKET MONEY, previously covered in this column. Despite my dislike of that movie, I loved seeing the two together and seeing them here is great, too, even though their screentime is limited to a couple of scenes.
But one of those scene is what hooked me into the movie. Early on, as Newman recovers, he’s in a wheelchair watching a movie at the hospital, projected on 16mm, and Marvin limps on crutches behind him, hobbles up and slips something over his neck and rushes out of the room.
Newman is confused and find what’s around his neck is a noose with a sign pinned to it with the word “Traitor” scrawled on the surface. He rushes out, wheeling after Marvin who is almost comically hobbling away on his crutches, too far to be caught. Newman screams out, “What else could I have done? What do you expect me to have done?!?”
It’s a great moment and Marvin’s testimony on the stand is incredible, a real showcase as to how badass that man is.
Final Thoughts: It’s ridiculous this movie isn’t out on DVD. MGM, I believe owns it, so whoever owns MGM’s library this week needs to consider doing this one up proper. A quick IMDB check shows that Laven is still kicking and Newman’s still around, even if his health is in question these days. Ann Francis and Cloris Leachman are around, too. C’mon and do it up proper. It’s a great movie that should have an audience that don’t have to wait for it to hopefully run again on TCM to finally see it.
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Monday, August 25th: UNTIL THEY SAIL (1957)
Tuesday, August 26th: SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME (1956)
Wednesday, August 27th: THE SET-UP (1949)
Thursday, August 28th: THE DEVIL & DANIEL WEBSTER (1941)
Friday, August 29th: CAT PEOPLE (1942)
Saturday, August 30th: CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944)
Sunday, August 31st: THE 7TH VICTIM (1943)
Tomorrow we hit another early Paul Newman movie not available on DVD, a drama set in New Zealand during WW2 called UNTIL THE SAIL co-starring Piper Laurie, Jean Simmons, Joan Fontaine and Sandra Dee. Oh, and it’s directed by a little guy named Robert Wise. Maybe it’ll be good? Heh. See you guys then!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
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Aug. 24, 2008, 5:51 p.m. CST
Aug. 24, 2008, 5:51 p.m. CST
Aug. 24, 2008, 5:55 p.m. CST
Aug. 24, 2008, 7:31 p.m. CST
Aug. 24, 2008, 7:56 p.m. CST
Somebody Up There Likes Me is a solid little film. Stoked to read your review.
Aug. 24, 2008, 9:24 p.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
It still sounds good.
Aug. 24, 2008, 10:04 p.m. CST
by Jonah Echo
Quint, you have some real treats ahead of you here. Starting with Devil and Daniel Webster, who I assume will utilize the lovely Simone Simon as the link to Cat People. Cat People is one of my all time favorite horror films. It is one of the greats for using atmosphere and perception to craft a suspenseful psychological mindspace. And in addition it shows a great portrait of a troubled marriage. <p> Curse of the Cat People and the Seventh Victim are truly great choices as well. I'll definitely be popping up to discuss those when they come around. Haven't seen The Rack, but will be adding it to my must see list. Thanks for all your work here Quint. Bravo!
Aug. 24, 2008, 10:39 p.m. CST
Cat People, Curse of the Cat People, The 7th Victim ... I hope to God that means you're going to watch the entire Val Lewton box set, because I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and ISLE OF THE DEAD are by far my favorites and well worth the watching.
Aug. 25, 2008, 12:08 a.m. CST
All but I Walked With A Zombie, which I saw on the big screen... restored print at the original Alamo Downtown. But not all the Lewtons will be hit here. I segue into a week of Bava before burning through them all... Like Augustus' mom advised, I'm saving some for later.
Aug. 25, 2008, 12:08 a.m. CST
Aug. 25, 2008, 9:28 a.m. CST
Seriously, there is a serious lack of male acting talent these days that can hold a candle to the old masters.
Aug. 25, 2008, 9:57 a.m. CST
I always thought someone should make a movie about him. He wasn't a producer for such a long time (died aged 46), but he certainly brought something new and lasting to the genre, and was responsible for the careers of people like Robert Wise, Mark Robson and Jacques Tourneur. Later in life, when he returned to RKO, he was offered the job (i.e. insult) of story editor, and then fired for being "too slow". Sad end to a brilliant career.
Aug. 25, 2008, 10:13 a.m. CST
by Shepard Wong
on the same day a Script Girl video is posted? Anyway, I love this series of reviews. I've been adding a bunch of these to my queue. Best thing going on the site right now. Nice work Quint.
Aug. 25, 2008, 9:51 p.m. CST
I'm envying you.
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