After several years directing commercials in England, Michael Mann spent the latter half of the 1970’s writing scripts for several popular television shows, including Starsky and Hutch, Police Story and the popular Angie Dickinson cop drama, Police Woman. Eventually, he directed an episode of Police Woman and was subsequently his first feature-length directing job. A made-for-tv drama, The Jericho Mile depicts the kind of gritty realism (considering the constraints of network television) that Mann’s feature films would later become known for. Based on a story by Patrick J. Nolan, Mann wrote the screenplay, which nabbed him one of three Emmy Awards won for the film.
Set in Folsom Prison, Larry “Rain” Murphy (Peter Strauss, Rich Man, Poor Man), is serving life for murder. In a bid to stay sane, Murphy runs “fast miles” every day in the prison yard. Running provides the kind of structure, focus and discipline Murphy needs, facing decades more behind bars. Murphy says little to others, save for R.C. Stiles (Richard Lawson), the African-American prisoner in the next cell over and the closest thing Murphy has to a friend in Folsom.
Murphy’s running ability catches the eye of warden Earl Gulliver (Billy Green Bush), who is immediately intrigued. Whether Gulliver is motivated by personal gain or a genuine desire to see Murphy succeed is unclear. However, he invites Jerry Beloit (Ed Lauter) a track and field coach at a local college to bring some of his runners to the prison to race Larry. After Larry beats them all, Beloit agrees to coach him for the upcoming Olympic trials and Larry, very reluctantly agrees, on his terms. Concurrently, Stiles finds himself in the crosshairs of Doctor D. (Brian Dennehy) a white gang leader, when he refuses to act as his drug mule. Stiles knows, as we do, that the consequences will be dire.
By this time, we are invested in Murphy’s training. We don’t know the details of his crime, but once they’re revealed he becomes an even more sympathetic character–he killed his father who was raping his sister–to save her. Yet, Murphy can’t forgive himself. The man he killed, the man who abused him too, is also at the center of some of his best memories of childhood. Murphy believes he belongs in prison where he is, pushing his body to its physical limit.
In an Emmy winning performance, Peter Strauss is a commanding presence. Larry Murphy is a man of few words, yet Strauss conveys a lot through subtle expressions and gestures. As quiet as Murphy is, it’s obvious that just under the surface is a man seething with rage. Strauss is able create some memorable moments by letting us witness flashes of that anger. It’s clearly Strauss’ show, but the talented supporting cast only elevates him further. Michael Mann deserves equal credit for shooting on location and essentially making Folsom Prison a character in the film. The Jericho Mile doesn’t look and feel like a typical TV movie of the era. You get a real sense of the place – The filth, the danger, the close quarters. Every day is a fight for survival.
Described as a “Brand new HD restoration from the original camera negative,” this presentation in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, looks excellent. The image is surprisingly clear, with a strong sense of depth throughout. Colors look appropriate, with no fading apparent. Flesh tones are realistic and motion is pleasing.
The DTS-HD Master 2.0 audio track serves the film well. Jimmie Haskell’s score and the immediately recognizable “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones come through convincingly. Effects are handled appropriately, and dialogue is clean and clear throughout.
There are no subtitles.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Film Historian Lee Gambin
- Trailer (0:26) With no sound.
Movie title: The Jericho Mile (TV) (1979)
Director(s): Michael Mann
Actor(s): Peter Strauss, Richard Lawson , Roger E. Mosley, Brian Dennehy , Geoffrey Lewis , Billy Green Bush
Genre: Crime, Drama, Sport