"Which is worse? The wolf who cries before eating the lamb or the wolf who does not."— Leo Tolstoy

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Cruel and Unusual Night

I just finished watching an exceptional anti-death penalty tv movie with a unique and compelling plot.

The premise of the movie is that a sympathetic chracter is sentenced to death on a felony murder charge after a store owner was killed during a botched robbery.  The film begins with the condemned man escaping from prison and kidnapping the judge who sentenced him to death.  After he imprisons the Judge, we learn of the agony and psychological torture he endured as he waited for his death sentence to be carried  out..  A compelling aspect of the film  is that it depicts the toll the death penalty takes on all of the participants in the execution process, from  the warden,  to the guards, to the chaplain, the other inmates on death row  and the condemned man himself.  Everyone is tortured by the execution process and the  prison officials  are visibly upset by their participation.

There is an interesting exchange between the escaped prisoner and the Judge where the Judge says that he was required to impose the death sentence by the State's mandatory sentencing laws.  The inmates response is that the Judge is using the same justification the Nazi's used to murder 6,000,000 people during the Holocaust: they were just following orders.

One of the  fascinating things about the movie is that it stars  then registered Democrat Ronald Reagan as the judge. Reagan didn't just star in the movie.  His production company, RONCOM Films, produced it.

There were no executions in California during Reagan's term as Governor (1968-1976), in part due to the moratorium placed on the death penalty in 1972 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia.

From IMBD:

Kraft Suspense Theatre (TV series 1963–1965)

A Cruel and Unusual Night (TV episode 1964 #1.28)  
60 min
A stern Lucas County, California "letter of the law" judge is kidnapped and "sentenced" to death by a man he once sentenced to death. The one-time Death Row prisoner recalls the agonies he went through as he awaited death by gas chamber. As his story is detailed tension builds and two questions remain to be answered-(1) "Will the judge crack?" and (2) "Will the execution be carried out?"

Director:  Leslie H. Martinson

Writer:  David Moessinger

Stars:  Ronald Reagan, Scott Marlowe and Anne Helm

Original Air Date:  4 June 1964

I would add a third and much more important question to the two posed by the IMBD summary that is a little bit of a spoiler.  Will the Judge continue to sentence people to death after going through his ordeal?  This film was broadcast on RetroTV so I'm not sure if it is commercially available but it is well worth the effort of trying to find it.

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