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Summer Crockett Moore,
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A great television film, with superb acting by Kilmer
Like many TV movies, "The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains" has suffered an unfortunate fading into obscurity through no fault of its own. Truly, this film is every bit as good as the Paul Muni original, if only a bit less for being the second go-around.
Director Daniel Mann gives the film a real edge, a surprising sense of desperation from a director who spent a career filming melodramas like "The Rose Tattoo" (1955). In fact, it was his last film before passing away at the age of 78 in 1991. He gives the film real claustrophobia and suspense.
This is one of Val Kilmer's best roles, and he makes you believe he's really experiencing all of this. As the warden, Charles Durning is very menacing, digging his heels into every ounce of hatefulness he can drag out his character. It's an excellent performance. The female roles are well-played within their limits, but the other real standout performance is from James Keach. I always felt that James was every bit as good an actor as brother Stacy, and was quite disappointed when he quit acting for a rather mediocre directing career (save for the stunning "The Stars Fell on Henrietta").
The script is very dark, providing few moments of light. Even in civilian life, Eliot Burns finds his life constantly unraveling. I began to believe that Burns got into trouble more through his lack of foresight than his lack of luck. Overall, it's a very good picture, and an excellent historical document of the chain gang life - nearly as good as "Cool Hand Luke" (1967).
RATING: 7.6 out of 10
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