Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"Let No Man Write My Epitaph" with Shelley Winters, Burl Ives and Ella Fitzgerald (1960)

In this searing sequel to “Knock on Any Door” the residents of a Chicago slum building band together in an effort to keep musician Nick Romano from becoming just like his father, who has been sentenced to death in the electric chair.

Superb acting by both Burl Ives, as Judge Sullivan, and Shelley Winters as  Nellie Romano; Nick’s mother; make this movie sizzle. The subject matter was pretty raw for the time. Sex, drugs and murder align in harmony to give the viewer a look at life on the lower levels of society, along with a rough idea of just how hard it can be to break the cycle of poverty and ignorance. Like I said; pretty raw material for its time.

Nick Romano, played by James Darren, is utterly convincing in his role as the son at risk. Willard Motley's novel shines in a cast which includes both Ricardo Montalban and the legendary Jean Seberg.

The acting may seem restrained on the surface, but isn’t that what we all do with our emotions in real life? Restrain them? The cinema photography of the urban neighborhood presents a close up view of the people who inhabit the gritty world of poverty. This lends credence to Mr. Darren’s performance as the struggling youth, looking to break free from the cycle into which he was born. The shadow of his father’s fate looms over him like a weight.

Ironically, while trying to protect her son from the ravages of ruin, it is Ms. Winter’s character who finds herself enslaved to heroin and the dealer who provides the drug. Her son is caught between breaking free and extracting justice from the dealer, played by Ricardo Montablan. Who will save him from the same fate as his father? Will he survive to live his dreams of playing the piano and marrying his girlfriend, Barbara Holloway, played by Jean Seberg?

The most astounding performances in this film are by Shelley Winters and a young Mr. Darren as her son, especially in the scene concerning her drug use. This scene is still played out in hundreds of lives daily, making the movie even more timeless. Throw in Ella Fitzgerald for some dramatic flair and this movie is one you will remember forever. I first saw it on; you guessed it; WOR-TV in New York City as a kid. You can watch it here; just hit the link below.

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