Saturday, March 4, 2017
BEHIND THE HIGH WALL (1956)
You will want to overlook the familiar script in this Universal International production. Just enjoy the superb acting of the lead actors. It is another prison break story of a good guy gone bad, destroyed by temptation and a doomed driveway. More about the latter, later.
Accomplices on the outside facilitate a prison escape, kill a guard and kidnap the warden, Tom Tully, and force an inmate, John Gavin, to accompany them. A car crash kills everyone except the aforementioned. Considering their short screen time, the other actors were just happy to be given a role. Before the police arrive, Tully buries the gang's money with a plan to finally live in financial peace. If that is not dishonest enough, he shamefully attempts to pin the guard’s murder on Gavin by uncomfortably never coming to his defense.
Flawlessly, Tully catapults from supporting to lead actor without a hitch. He is excellent as a prison warden with financial problems, a crippled wife, and decisions that change his life through layers of lies. Tully’s understated and subtle performance―his tender voice when trying to comfort his wife―reflected an actor of great range. Sylvia Sidney's role as the wheelchair-bound wife seems a good choice. An interesting detail is that she is able to drive her car equipped with handicap controls. Not common in any movie of the era. Continuing to work after her debut may attest to Sidney's flexibility as an actress. Yet she was never confused with any of her more attractive peers. She certainly had a face for radio. Even though her wrinkles had multiplied twelve-fold―oddly, still wheelchair-bound―she carried on forty years later in “Mars Attacks!”
John Gavin gives a solid performance but the handsome actor, with a face fresh from a J.C. Leyendecker Arrow Shirt illustration, is out of place in this role of a down-and-out loser. With his snarling upper lip, Elvis Presley would have worked better. If Gavin was ideally cast, then his girlfriend should have been Elizabeth Taylor. Betty Lynn was attractively cute but not a classic beauty. For the record, I have no idea who the lady in the poster with the red skirt is since she was not in this movie. But her face has an uncanny resemblance to Miss Taylor.
Dependable and versatile actor, John Larch, is on hand as a prison inmate who sticks close to Gavin until the end, implausible as it is. In order to flush out both men hiding in the garage of Lynn’s father, Tully confesses his sin over a bull horn―in the formerly quiet neighborhood―and testifies to Gavin's innocence. Larch wants no part in any surrender and blasts through the garage door without opening it, hitting Tully in his escape. How anyone that near the garage―on that driveway of doom―could not hear the engine start and accelerate is beyond reasoning.