Me and Lil’ Stevie walk THE GREEN MILE
Me and Lil’ Stevie
Celebrate a Milestone with
THE GREEN MILE (1999)
By Peter N. Dudar
(Establishing shot of a prison in Louisiana. Camera slowly pans over a sign reading COLD MOUNTAIN PENITENTIARY. POV switches to Interior Shot of a prison corridor with a lime-green floor. Camera moves down past the rows of cells, reaches a desk at the end of the corridor, then turns right and proceeds into a new room. This room is filled with people sitting in folding chairs, glancing ahead at an execution that is about to take place. The camera pans to the front of the room where a figure is sitting in an electric chair, with a pair of prison guards standing by his side. The figure sits up straight in the chair, and we see that it is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the shape of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)
Peter: Welcome, Constant Viewer, to our 1 Year Anniversary Episode of Me and Lil’ Stevie.
Lil’ Stevie: Um, no…it’s our First Birthday Episode! We’re finally one-year-old.
(Peter pulls a birthday candle out of his pocket and crams it up Lil’ Stevie’s nostril)
Peter: You’re one year old, mentally. Our little column has already reviewed some of the REAL Stephen King’s most beloved (and catastrophically dismal) films based on his written works. And we’ve had a lot of laughs along the way. So when we started discussing which film we would showcase for this Anniversary special…
Lil’ Stevie: (Pulls candle out of his nose) Birthday!!!
Peter: …we wanted to pick a film that was both widely popular and showcased the excellence of King’s writing abilities.
Lil’ Stevie: MY writing abilities!
Peter: You’re being awful obstinate today.
Lil’ Stevie: Says you!
Peter: (Sighing). Anyway, we had our choices narrowed down for our final pick, but then we had a death in the family.
Lil’ Stevie: Michael Clarke Duncan, who played John Coffey (like the drink, only not spelled the same) in the movie THE GREEN MILE, passed away on September 3rd, 2012.
Peter: So, we’re dedicating this One Year Anniversary column to Michael.
Lil’ Stevie: Happy Birthday, John Coffey, wherever you are!
Peter: Let’s get started. Director Frank Darabont’s (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, 1994, and THE MIST, 2007) film takes place in Louisiana, back in 1932. The film begins at a senior citizens home (in the present), where prison guard Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks from television’s BOSOM BUDDIES) is living out his final years on the planet. He…
Lil’ Stevie: No, no, no…you’re already getting it wrong. The “old” Paul Edgecomb is played by Dabbs Greer (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, 1956)!
Peter: Whatever! Anyway, Paul wanders through his day, doing secretive things that most old folks wouldn’t trouble themselves with, unless they were suffering from dementia. He squirrels away slices of old toast, and then goes on long walks without telling anyone where he’s going.
Lil’ Stevie: It’s like watching a real-life “bad seniors’ home” from a hidden camera on 60 Minutes.
Peter: (chuckling) Paul has made friends with another resident…a woman named Elaine Connelly, and, after a minor breakdown during television time, decides to entrust her with the secret that he’s been keeping all these years.
Lil’ Stevie: Jumpcut back to 1932, where Paul Edgecomb is the head screw for Cold Mountain’s E Block (where the “death row” prisoners are held). Paul is preparing for the arrival of his newest inmate, “a monstrous-big colored fella,” who…
Peter: Are you crazy? You can’t say “colored fella” in this day and age! That sounds totally racist.
Lil’ Stevie: I’m just trying to go along with the dialect from the movie. They said things like that back then.
(People in the crowd are visibly upset, and begin shouting out “racists!” at Peter and Lil’ Stevie.)
Peter: Now look what you’ve done! We’re sorry, folks. This is really awkward now. You’re so unprofessional, Lil’ Stevie! In the movie, Paul Edgecomb refers to Coffey as a Negro, and that will do for Coffey’s introduction. Paul is in the throes of a very bad urinary infection. That, coupled with the antics of dim-witted bully prison guard Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison, THE BURROWERS, 2008), means Paul is saddled with a heavy load. Coffey arrives on “The Mile” (the nickname for the prison corridor), and Paul becomes the final custodian for a man who was convicted of murdering twin sisters Cora and Cathe Detterick. Only, Coffey appears to be less of a monster and more of a timid, feeble-minded child who asks to sleep with the lights on because he’s afraid of the dark.
Lil’ Stevie: And this really is the magic of King’s writing. This whole movie is character-driven, and in this one scene, our notions of the characters and what they represent are fully entrenched. Paul Edgecomb is a truly decent, likeable character who performs his duties even when he’s nowhere up to the task. Percy Wetmore is a mean, terrible bully and coward (he takes an awful moment to use his baton and break the fingers of prisoner Eduard Delacroix (Michael Jeter, Mr. Noodle on SESAME STREET) as he leaves the scene. The other guards, Brutus “Brutal” Howell (David Morse, DISTURBIA, 2007), Harry Terwilliger (Jeffrey DeMunn, THE MIST, 2007), and Dean Stanton (Barry Pepper, TRUE GRIT, 2010) round out the E Block crew, each filling their own respective niche as both guards and friends.
Peter: That sounds like a reasonable statement. Coming from you.
Lil’ Stevie: Well, for a motion picture to take place in one locale for almost 80% of the movie, you require a strong ensemble cast, and Darabont got his money’s worth. Especially with Hanks and Morse, who make up the brains and brawn on “The Mile.”
Peter: Events unfold on “The Mile” that keep the movie progressing; Delacroix (or Del, as they refer to him) adopts a mouse that makes his home on “The Mile.” The mouse, “Mr. Jingles,” shows up one day and draws the attention of both the guards and Del. Eventually, the jerk that he is, Percy has a character-display moment when he tries to cruelly stomp on the mouse before it gets away. Del somehow manages to befriend the mouse, and actually teaches it to do tricks.
Voice of John Coffey: He a circus mouse!
(Lil’ Stevie looks around, a bit frightened, for the source of the voice)
Lil’ Stevie: Mr. Duncan? I thought you were dead.
Peter: Pay no attention to that. That’s just an echo. Anyway, in the interim we’re offered one execution; Arlen Bitterbuck (Graham Green, DANCES WITH WOLVES, 1990), who rides in “Old Sparky” for killing a man, and a new inmate named William “Wild Bill” Wharton (Sam Rockwell, IRON MAN II, 2010) arrives. “Wild Bill” is a rowdy, devil-may-care outlaw who feigns being doped up when the law picks him up from the hospital, and immediately goes on a violent spree upon arriving at Cold Mountain Penitentiary. Of course, Paul Edgecomb is still in the midst of his urinary infection, and by the time the melee is over some of the other guards are injured and Paul takes a shot to the lower abdomen that leaves him sprawled in agony on the floor.
Lil’ Stevie: And we’re finally introduced to the healing power of John Coffey.
Voice of John Coffey: Like the drink. Only not spelled the same…
(Lil’ Stevie shifts around uncomfortably on Peter’s arm).
Lil’ Stevie: All right, that’s getting creepy…
Peter: Coffey coaxes Paul over to his cell, and then unleashes his healing power by grabbing Paul’s cojones and sucking these weird little disease bugs out of his mouth. The lights go all crazy and begin to spark as the transference takes place, and when it ends, Coffey spits the bugs out into the air and they fly off and disappear into the dark.
Lil’ Stevie: Did you notice that John Coffey has the same initials as Jesus Christ? I did that on purpose.
Peter: Really? Christ isn’t really Jesus’s last name. It means “messiah.” Most folks just called him “Jesus.”
Lil’ Stevie: You’re pulling my leg.
Peter: No, I’m not. Stupid-head! Further scenes in the movie introduce prison warden Hal Moores (James Cromwell, Farmer Hoggett from BABE, 1995). Hal is Paul’s boss, with an implied friendship that goes back more than a few years. It turns out that Hal’s wife Melinda (Patricia Clarkson, SHUTTER ISLAND, 2010) has inoperable brain cancer. She’s dying, and Hal Moores is a bit of a wreck. Paul feels terrible for both Hal and Melinda. In the meanwhile, he’s slowly putting two and two together in a mental picture that perhaps John Coffey hadn’t really murdered the twin girls at all.
Lil’ Stevie: And life on “The Mile” is filled with its own situations. Foremost is that “Wild Bill” is really living up to his name, causing trouble for the guards at every turn. Eventually, “Wild Bill” gives Percy Wetmore a good scare, causing the bully guard to wet his pants in front of his coworkers (and in front of Del, who laughs in deepest satisfaction that the wheels of karma finally caught up with him). Percy’s antics also create hostility on “The Mile,” but he makes a promise to Paul that he’ll move on to a new career as soon as Paul puts him out as lead during an execution. And of course, the execution will be that of Eduard Delacroix.
Peter: You can see the different story arcs starting to come together, and how the conflicts created from them begin to build tension. On the night before Del’s execution, Percy finally gets the chance to stomp out Mr. Jingles with his boot. Even after having read the book, the scene hits home so quickly and unexpected that I jumped a mile as Percy’s foot comes down and squishes it flat. It looks THAT real.
Lil’ Stevie: Sissy!
Voice of John Coffey: It’s not too late, boss…I can still take it back!
(Lil’ Stevie begins quaking in terror).
Lil’ Stevie: You can’t be delivering lines! You’re dead, remember???
Peter: Calm yourself, Lil’ Stevie. Paul does scoop up the mouse and hand it to Coffey, who does, in fact, “take it back” and save the little mouse with his powers. When Paul and Brutal drag Percy back in to look at Del and the very-alive Mr. Jingles, they give him a final ultimatum that he WILL be leaving directly after Del’s execution.
Lil’ Stevie: Of course, Percy has his own twisted plan of exacting revenge on Del, and manages to sabotage the execution. Eduard Delacroix dies a very long, painful, terrible death.
Voice of John Coffey: Poor ol’ Del!
Lil’ Stevie: Whoever’s doing that, please STOP! We’re trying to do a review here…
Peter: This is the final straw for Paul. He’s convinced that God would not put a miracle like John Coffey on the earth to murder two little girls. So he rounds up the other E Block guards for lunch, and lays down a plan to break John out of prison to go help cure Melinda Moores of her brain tumor.
Lil’ Stevie: It ain’t gonna be easy. Percy is still around, and then there’s that lunatic “Wild Bill” still on “The Mile.”
Peter: We’ll stop it right here…we’ve offered enough spoilers already. Is there anything else special about this movie that we need to point out?
Lil’ Stevie: Well, for starters, this book was released as a serial publication in 1996, and by the end of that summer, all six installments were listed in the New York Times’ Top-10 Bestsellers list. That was a great year for me, because…
Peter: I said, “The Movie!”
Lil’ Stevie: Um…It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Motion Picture…but it lost to AMERICAN BEAUTY. Can you freakin’ believe that?
Peter: Yeah. And Michael Clarke Duncan was also nominated for an award for Best Supporting Actor…but he lost to Michael Caine for CIDER HOUSE RULES.
Lil’ Stevie: Wasn’t that little kid from THE SIXTH SENSE also nominated in that category?
(Haley Joel Osment is sitting in a folding chair in the front row. His hand immediately shoots up).
Haley Joel: I see dead people…
(Haley Joel points over to the booth where the executioner is waiting to pull the lever and light up “Old Sparky.” It turns out to be the ghost of Michael Clarke Duncan).
Michael: I wish I could take it back, but it’s too late.
(Michael throws the switch, and Peter and Lil’ Stevie start convulsing with electricity).
Lil’ Stevie: Noooo. I don’t wanna die! Mommy, mommy, mommy…
Peter: I’m shocked at the way you’re currently conducting yourself. Goodbye, folks. Thanks for a great year. We’ll see you next month!
© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar
Please note that, as usual, Me and Lil’ Stevie does not reflect the views of cinemaknifefight.com. So don’t blame us, folks.