The Jericho Mile

tn_jerichomilerookiesIf you count TV movies – and I do – JERICHO MILE is Michael Mann’s directivational debut. It’s not as cinematic as his later big, wide movies, but it’s from the days when TV movies were legit enough to play theatrically overseas. It also stood out from other TV at the time, winning Emmies for writing, lead actor (over Kurt Russell in ELVIS!) and film editing for a limited series or special, and a Director’s Guild Award for “Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Special/Movies for TV/Actuality.” (?)

It’s a prison movie, and you know Mann isn’t gonna want to soften that up. I mean, it’s TV so we don’t get any profanity, racial slurs or rape, but it’s still got a gritty feel because it was filmed in Folsom with the real inmates all around, and plenty of establishing montages that are clearly just documentary footage. You can definitely tell that some of the supporting players are real cons. I wasn’t surprised when I read that Mann had to negotiate for each of the race gangs (white, black and Latin) to have representatives on screen and vow to prevent any race wars or riots during filming so the production wouldn’t be kicked out. I mean obviously it’s an unwritten rule on pretty much all movie sets that the actors should not be involved in any race wars. But I still give them credit for not having one. Apparently there were a bunch of stabbings, one fatal, but those were allowed.

Mann also smoothed things over by having author/Reservoir Dog Eddie Bunker as a guide, and by casting inmate turned playwright and poet Miguel Piñero as the leader of the Mexican gang. I’m not sure if they were as impressed by Brian Dennehy, who played Dr. D, the white kingpin. He actually plays him kinda like Jason Alexander would play him. He feels he can just sit there and be a wiseass because he has big muscle dudes with Nazi tattoos standing around him.

mp_jerichomileBut this is also a sports movie. It’s like Mann’s version of THE LONGEST YARD. It’s not as broadly comic (or comic at all, really), but it has the same siding-with-a-convict and underdog sports movie appeal. And it just reminds me more of that one than of UNDISPUTED or DEATH RACE. Peter Strauss (Rich Man, Poor Man) stars as Detective Miles Jericho… or, my mistake, as Larry Murphy, nick-named Lickety Split by the black guys because he spends all his time in the yard running in circles. Fast. Not fast enough that he didn’t get caught, I guess, but I’m telling you, he’s fast. Other guys lift weights, dance around with a boombox, cheer on The Price Is Right, but he hauls ass. That’s pretty much all he does.

He’s mostly a loner, doesn’t talk much, but he does have one close friend, Stiles (Richard Lawson, SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM), who has the cell next to his and runs with him (but can’t keep up). Murphy is a lifer who chooses not to ever think about the outside world, since he’ll never see it again. He worries about Stiles, who pines for his hot wife and new baby back home, keeps showing their pictures to him, won’t stop talking about them. This makes him vulnerable to Dr. D, who tries to use his yearning for an early conjugal to get him involved in drug muling. Stiles (who is black, by the way) doesn’t want any part of it, which gets him into trouble with Dr. D and the white supremacists, which gets Murphy into trouble too. The gang comes down hard on him and the other gangs aren’t jumping to get some white guy’s back.

Meanwhile there’s this sports writer interviewing inmates for a piece he’s doing (probly a little bit of Mann semi-autobiographicalness going on there) and he notices how fast Murphy is. Word starts to spread. Some of the prison staff (who are never portrayed as assholes, which is unusual) start to think they should do something with his talents. Geoffrey Lewis (in nice guy mode) is the prison psychiatrist I think, and he calls in coach Ed Lauter to check out Murphy and talk to him and stuff. He determines that he’s getting up there with the fastest runners of the world, and he can teach him some pro tricks to be even faster.

After some initial reluctance on Murphy’s part they come up with a scheme to get him a qualifying race for the Olympic trials. But they gotta build a certified track inside the yard and that will require the help and cooperation of the prison population. So there’s your prison politics. They gotta figure out how to get Dr. D out of the way.

Murphy is a really appealing badass because he’s quiet but unwavering. He has accepted that he’s a lifer and doesn’t complain about it. He admits he did the crime and doesn’t even usually get into why he still feels he was justified, because it’s irrelevant to the rest of his life. But he doesn’t trust anybody. More than once he reacts defensively to these guys but when he realizes they sincerely share his love of running he lets his guard down. You can tell it means alot to him to have someone to talk about the feeling of “gliding on air” he has when he runs.

That’s another reason this appeals to me, it’s a love letter to running. It makes so much sense as his method of mental escape. It’s a form of meditation. It’s a way to be completely alone. He didn’t know it was gonna turn into this big thing, and ultimately he has to get his solitude back.

Anyway Murphy’s got a code, he’s stubborn, he does what he feels is honorable, almost always at his own expense. On two occasions he picks a fight he can’t win just to defend the name of the late Stiles.

This character was also the inspiration for the character Stiles in TEEN WOLF, who was originally supposed to be Teen Wolf’s friend who gets killed by white supremacists for refusing to be a drug mule.

Before this Mann had directed a couple documentary shorts and an episode of Police Woman. He’d also written for some TV shows, including Starsky & Hutch. He did some uncredited work on STRAIGHT TIME, which is where he met Eddie Bunker, and which is kind of the opposite of this because Dustin Hoffman is trying to stay out of prison and is not trying to be in the Olympics.

In many ways this is more normal than what later became the Mann style. Some of Jimmie Haskell (NIGHT OF THE LEPUS, DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY)’s scoring is pretty standard, for example. On the other hand alot of it is set to what sounds like an extended jam on the intro to “Sympathy For the Devil.” (I’m betting that was his temp track.) That seems like a hint at the use of classic or contemporary rock that will later become an important part of his work. He does use slo-mo, but it’s for a part where anybody would’ve done it, it’s not really the same thing as he does later.

I think the biggest sign that it’s him is the obsession with authenticity. Researching prison gangs, using real people and locations, sometimes in cinema verite montages of life in Folsom. Variations on Murphy’s tough talk about doing time are repeated in multiple Mann works, including HEAT, and this theme of sharpening your mental and physical fitness for surviving behind bars came up again just this summer in BLACKHAT.

By the way, does this handsome white supremacist in the middle here look familiar?


He did to me, but I had to check the credits to verify that yes, that’s Richard Moll from Night Court and HOUSE.

This one’s only on VHS in the U.S., but there are some import DVDs available. It’s not widescreen anyway so it’s not that big of a deal. I know you Richard Moll completists are already sold, but everybody else should check it out too in my opinion.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 9th, 2015 at 7:17 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews, Sport. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

41 Responses to “The Jericho Mile”

  1. I believe you mean Richard Moll from THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER, SURVIVOR, and T.J. HOOKER.

  2. Awesome. Very happy you wrote about this one, Vern. Speaking of completism, it would be really sweet if you went through the other Mann movies not in the archive, like The Insider and Last of the Mohicans.

  3. I plan to do that, Jek. I’ve been meaning to do a series forever, but decided to just get started with this one and do another one every once in a while.

  4. At this point, I can’t remember if Vern himself said he was going to do a Michael Mann retrospective, or if fans have just been clamoring for it. I’d be interested in reading Vern’s take on Thief.

  5. Good to know that Vern’s planned Mannathon wasn’t in my head.

  6. I’m less excited for a Mann retrospective and more excited for The Rookies. What’s next? John Milius’ DILINGER? John Woo’s YOUNG DRAGONS? Renny Harlin’s BORN AMERICAN? Oliver Stone’s SEIZURE? Brian De Palma’s MURDER A LA MOD? There are a lot of weird places this series can go.

  7. flyingguillotine

    March 9th, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    I rented SEIZURE under an alternate title… It was called something like NIGHT OF THE EXECUTIONER. Anyway, this film is completely fucking bug nuts.

  8. you can watch the whole thing for free on youtube:


    if it’s region blocked where you are just country lock your Tor exit node or a use another VPN like Hola Unblocker to get around the studio halfwits who actually believe geolimitations work in an Internet world

  9. Shit, those are all good ideas that I am not prepared for, Majestyk. Maybe The Rookies should be a reoccurring feature.

  10. This is not very badass of me, but when I saw the name Eddie Bunker I could only think of Edith Bunker from ALL IN THE FAMILY. That would probably have made the movie somewhat different.

  11. This could be the perfect opportunity to combine two great ideas; review Peckinpah’s first – THE DEADLY COMPANIONS.

  12. This is one of only a few Mann movies I’ve only seen once (another being being The Keep, and Blackhat hasn’t come out on DVD/bluray yet) so I don’t have anything to add. Great review, though.

    In Mann-related news, though, yesterday’s episode of Justified quoted / referenced ‘Heat’. Which is awesome, if you’re me.

  13. Thinking about it I’ve just realized that I think Michael Mann is a black spot in my filmic knowledge, I think the only ones that I’ve actually seen are COLLATERAL and MIAMI VICE and while I remember liking COLLATERAL (but don’t actually remember much about it other than it being the last movie I saw Cruise in before he became the couch dancing Tom Cruise we know and love today) I also remember being pretty damned bored during MIAMI VICE honestly, sorry…

    Maybe I was just too young and immature for MIAMI VICE, I mean I was all of 16 years old when I saw it for crying out loud.

  14. I had to check the credits to be sure and yep, that’s the great Burton Gilliam (FLETCH, BTTF III) in the photo with Richard Moll. Great cast for a tv movie!

  15. man i just watched thief and it was so fuckin cool. then i remembered mcweeny hated black hat a ton and i didnt go see it, but then you liked it and i regretted not going to see it!

  16. Vern, I find this statement very strange: “That seems like a hint at the use of classic or contemporary rock that will later become an important part of his work.”

    Am I going crazy here or does Michael Mann very rarely use classic/contemporary rock? It definitely is not an important part of his movies since the only song I can remember from any of his movies is Sam Cooke at the start of ALI. I guess you might be thinking of his TV work which I’ve never seen. But when I think of his movies, I can barely remember much music at all, and if there is music, it’s usually an instrumental score. I’m sure someone here will prove me wrong, though.

    Anyway, I think you are due to finally review LAST OF THE MOHICANS which is good timing since I finally got around to seeing that today.

  17. I think you’re right that I was thinking of Miami Vice (the show), which was notable for its two hit soundtrack albums, and the similarly music-heavy Mann production BAND OF THE HAND. But also consider the prominent use of “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” in MANHUNTER, and in his more modern era the coyote scene in COLLATERAL (Audioslave, I think, who also have songs in MIAMI VICE [the movie]).

    I’m afraid I’ll likely skip MOHICANS because when I watched it I felt like I had nothing interesting to write about it, and that’s what has been holding back the continuation of this review series. But thank you for the reminder, I need to get back to it somehow.

  18. Not strictly rock, but HEAT makes very memorable use of a music by Moby, U2 and Brian Eno’s side project Passengers etc

  19. MIAMI VICE made use of a lot of rock music, not just of the period (Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues” still kicks) but stuff from the 60s and 70s too. Just from what I’ve seen the pilot had a song by The Rolling Stones, another episode had one by Traffic and one had the closing section of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”.

    Really looking forward to the Mann reviews going forward. THE INSIDER especially, as it has had increased relevance during the last four years.

  20. Watching MIAMI VICE (the show) can be misleading these days. On the discs and in most of the re-runs on TV they have changed the music to save a buck or two. I’m not saying that they didn’t use some 60s and 70s rock/pop back in the 80s. But some scenes get a lot less nostalgic for me when you’re expecting The Waterboys and get some generic 70s jazz instead.

  21. Pretty sure the DVDs, at least the original pressings, are intact or pretty darn close, as securing all the music rights was the major reason full sets took quite a long time to come out, and Universal made clear they wouldn’t release it without the music. They knew that was a huge part of the show’s legacy.

    As excessive as 80s Nostalgia has been in recent years, it’s great that MIAMI VICE is now recognised as a great and important TV series rather than the lolsy kitsch nostalgia relic it was relegated to for a while. Fuck Earth Tones! (Until Season 3)

  22. Yes, the dvd sets have fully licensed music. Grandpa pegsman might be misremembering. Happens when you get old

  23. I feel like I need to rewatch my Michael Mann collection now and make notes on the music.

    I watched LAST OF THE MOHICANS yesterday before reading this review so wasn’t paying attention to the music but am 99.9% sure there was no pop/rock music in it.

    I watched MANHUNTER after reading this review. The first half of it all the music is what I associate with Mann movies ie pretty crappy instrumental score. In the last half of the movie, there was like 3 songs and 4 if you count that Heartbeat song that it closes on. They were all pretty terrible songs, IMO. So far, I stand by my assertion.

    I have to say, MANHUNTER is way down the list of my favourite Mann movies. It has some great moments but overall I just don’t find it very engaging. I felt the way the last time I saw it about 12 years ago. I enjoyed LAST OF THE MOHICANS a lot more. Also, I notice over in the MANHUNTER review that some people rate Brian Cox’s Lecktor higher than Hopkins, which is crazy talk. Nothing against Cox, he’s good, but come on.

  24. I like how HALLSY and I can both call the THIEF soundtrack “the HARD TARGET of instrumental scores” and mean the exact opposite things.

  25. Let me tell ya, the guy that hosts the Adkins Undisputed podcast is at it again. On the episode I listened to today, he mentioned that if he was going to introduce someone to John Woo he would show them HARD TARGET! Can you fucking imagine a better way to make someone never want to see another Joo Woo movie??

    Also, THIEF is one of the only Mann flicks I haven’t seen yet. That and THE KEEP. I bet the score is indeed pretty crappy but it would have to be much much worse than that to merit comparison to HARD TARGET.

  26. Shriekback, the British post-punk funk band who have three tracks on the MANHUNTER soundtrack, are the only band that I have ever descended into obsessive fandom for. Two of those tracks are from 1985’s Oil and Gold, which features Hans Zimmer on synths and means they were solidly contemporary when Mann was making the movie. You don’t get a sense of it from the choices on the MANHUNTER soundtrack but live they were gloriously funky. Mann was clearly a fan though, as they also appear on Miami Vice soundtracks and on THE BAND OF THE HAND soundtrack.

    I wasn’t one of the people on the MANHUNTER comments speaking up for Brian Cox’s Lecktor, but I am happy to do so now. Cox is definitely the real deal in that part, and while Hopkins is fine, I could never understand how he was the one winning all the awards and becoming the cultural touchstone. Cox nailed it.

  27. Something about the cult of Hannibal Lecter has always brought out my inner puritan; I just don’t “get” SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, finding it distasteful and even kind of stupid in places. There are, of course, a great number of far dumber and much more distasteful films I have no problem embracing and proselytising for. Can’t really explain it beyond it probably having something to do with its status and acceptance in “polite society”. But my point is I probably prefer Cox just because he’s less of the character I don’t like, and certainly on screen much less. I love MANHUNTER because it’s vintage Mann, Lecter doesn’t really come into it.

  28. Hallsy – ya gotta watch Thief!! I also put it off for years, despite adoring Mann’s entire filmography. I think the “importance” of it kept me delaying (I have an inexplicable anxiety surrounding any movie with a Criterion Collection). Long story short I put it on last week and it’s incredible. In many ways a purer film than Heat, though I still prefer the larger canvas. There’s an amazing scene in a coffee shop that I won’t spoil for you that’s just as impactful as that other famous coffee shop scene he did

  29. I’m not so old I can’t read. It says on the dvd box I bought a few years ago that some of the music might differ from the original airing.

    But we all know what passes for taste in music on this sight, so everyone might not hear the difference…

  30. Pegsman – can we all agree that the new Bon Jovi cover of Fairytale of New York is the greatest thing ever?

    Patty – I have THIEF on dvd but it’s been sitting in a suitcase with most of my other dvds on a Caribbean island for the last two and a half years and I’m trying to get them shipped over here. I would have just rented THIEF by now but can’t find it on any streaming platforms here.

  31. Why anyone would actively seek out Bon Jovi covering anything, is beyond me. I plan to go through the rest of my life without hearing him singing that song.

  32. FAIRYTALE OF NEW YORK can get in the bin with SILENCE OF THE LAMBS for me.

    The Pogues did get a song on MIAMI VICE though.

  33. I contend that Hannibal Lecter is one of the great Bogeyman creations of fiction, neutered by giving him a backstory in HANNIBAL RISING. There’s a great line in the book (not sure if it made the movie) where Lecter tells Starling “You cannot reduce me to a set of influences” which is exactly what HANNIBAL RISING did. One of the myriad reason why Ledger’s Joker was so great is he changes his “how I got the scars” story every time. He did it, his dad did it…It doesn’t matter. I don’t need great villains to have origin stories, they just need to scare me shitless.

    With respect to the books, I put RED DRAGON and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS as the Gold Standard for Psycho Thrillers, against which I judge all other Psycho Thrillers, regardless of how many serial killers or wanton acts of brutality you stuff inside 400 pages of your assembly line novels (you hear me, James Patterson?). Harris himself couldn’t top his first 2 Lecter books. HANNIBAL went off in a weird Grand Gothic tone with an ending so polarizing, Foster opted out of the movie adaptation and they changed the climax. He got arm-twisted by De Laurentiis into writing a screenplay for HANNIBAL RISING which then got padded out to a book, and it shows. About a year or 2 ago, Harris came out with a (non-Lecter)novel called CARI MORA and it’s…shockingly bad.

    As for the movies, I contend with equal firmness that THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is an impeccably crafted masterwork of pacing, writing, editing, cinematography and acting. Hopkins, merging oily charm with devilish menace and superbly playing off an earnest Jodie Foster only descended to near shtick once RED DRAGON rolled around. Then again, going from Jonathan Demme and Ridley Scott to Brett freaking Ratner is such a steep slide down the auteur curve it’s liable to induce nosebleeds.

    MANHUNTER deviated from the book but captures it’s sense of palpable dread and menace so effectively. RED DRAGON stayed faithful to the source but captured fuck all. Then again…Michael Mann to Brett Ratner…that’s a ROBOCOP to ROBOCOP 3 level disparity.

    As for Cox’s portrayal of Lecter, it’s perfectly fine. He played the good doctor like a devious asshole without the suave elegance or charm of Hopkins, which makes sense because those would have been wasted on a jaded, world weary, seasoned investigator like Will Graham.

  34. And…after bloviating so hard about Lecter, I would be remiss indeed on a JERICHO MILE thread to not at least say, I do remember watching this prison set TV movie (I like “Prison” movies generally) and enjoying it a lot.

    Peter Strauss is such an underrated actor and it’s a pity while Poor Man went on to have a booming career on the big screen Rich Man was largely relegated to TV work, and maybe popping up as the President in XXX: STATE OF THE UNION.

  35. Pegsman, I think you need to hear it at least once. Whatever you’re picturing in your head, I can assure you it is SO much worse. I don’t understand how anyone even thought this was fit for release. Plus, he sings both parts and he changes the best part of the song to: “You’re a bum, you’re a braggart/ You’ve lost all your swagger/ And the word around town is you ain’t much in bed/ You’re a squirrel ’cause you’re nuts/ You’re a kick in the gut/ Happy Christmas my ass/ I pray God it’s our last.”

    Pacman – that is blasphemy here in Ireland. In the next week or so when my wife and I belt this out at karaoke for the 1000th time I will dedicate it to you.

  36. Pac, you’re talking about the cover, right?

  37. Nope, sorry. I’m obviously playing up a bit in the spirit of the thread, but I’ve never liked it. Ten-Twelve years ago I would have genuinely gone on some stupid edgelord rant about it, but these days I appreciate it is something genuinely meaningful and special to people. But Pet Shop Boys were the deserving victors of Christmas 87 in my house.

  38. Keeping on this very British\Irish niche tip we’re on THE COMIC STRIP PRESENTS GREGORY: DIARY OF A NUTCASE is a very strong rebuke of LAMBS (and definitely *not* an affectionate parody) which I think hits a lot of its targets straight on.

  39. On my dvd sets it says nothing of the sorts. No disclaimers, nor nothing. I dont know what dvds you own, pegsman. But mine seems to have no licensing issues of the sorts. And there should not be. Like Pacman said, the reason it took so long for the series to come out was because they got allthe licensed music.

  40. Pacman says a lot of crazy things today about music. All I know is that when I bought my box set 6-7 years ago it had the mentioned disclaimer. It’s probably a Region 2 thing. Guess you don’t have that in Sweden.

  41. My bad, the box is from 2006.

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