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Castle on the Hudson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Castle on the Hudson
Directed byAnatole Litvak
Screenplay bySeton I. Miller
Brown Holmes
Courtney Terrett
Based onTwenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing
1932 book
by Lewis E. Lawes
Produced byAnatole Litvak
Samuel Bischoff
StarringJohn Garfield
Ann Sheridan
Pat O'Brien
Burgess Meredith
CinematographyArthur Edeson
Edited byThomas Richards
Music byAdolph Deutsch
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • February 17, 1940 (1940-02-17)
Running time
77 minutes
CountryUnited States

Castle on the Hudson (UK title: Years Without Days) is a 1940 American film noir drama directed by Anatole Litvak and starring John Garfield, Ann Sheridan, and Pat O'Brien. A thief is sent to Sing Sing Prison, where he is befriended by the reform-minded warden. The film was based on the book Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing, written by Lewis E. Lawes, on whom the warden (played by O'Brien) in the film was based.[1] Castle on the Hudson was actually a remake of an earlier Spencer Tracy prison film, 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932), also based on Lawes's book.[2][3]

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Tommy Gordan (John Garfield), a cocky, arrogant career thief, is finally nailed by New York City authorities after pulling a big heist. He is sentenced to a minimum seven years at the state prison in Ossining, aka Sing Sing, on the shores of the Hudson River. There, he meets prison warden Walter Long (Pat O'Brien), to whom he takes an immediate dislike. Months later, inmate Tommy settles into the dull routine of prison life.

There is one rule that the superstitious Tommy Gordon has always obeyed—never pull a job on a Saturday. So when fellow inmate Steve Rockford (Burgess Meredith) invites Tommy to assist him in a breakout, he at first agrees. Later however, learning that Rockford has scheduled the escape for a Saturday night, he backs out. Sure enough, Rockford's plans go awry, and he dies during the attempt. Afterwards, Warden Long learns of Tommy's refusal to collaborate with Rockford. So later, when he receives news that Tommy's girlfriend, Kay Manners (Ann Sheridan), is seriously ill, he offers Tommy temporary unsupervised parole, just long enough to visit Kay. Despite the parole's taking place on a Saturday, Tommy gratefully accedes.

Once in New York, however, Tommy becomes embroiled in an altercation involving his shyster lawyer Ed Crowley (Jerome Cowan), who is shot dead by a sick, convalescing Kay. Though he is actually innocent of the crime, Tommy decides to protect Kay's reputation by taking the blame for his lawyer's death. So upon returning to Sing Sing, he greets the warden with a fake confession. A courtroom trial follows, where despite Kay's attempts to explain she is the real murderer, Tommy is convicted and sentenced to the electric chair. Unlike many of his death-row companions who panic and break down as their appointment with fate approaches, Tommy stolidly faces the consequences of his noble decision. In the end, he slowly walks that last mile before execution, accompanied by a solemn Warden Long and the prison chaplain.


Production notes

A year earlier, John Garfield had refused to play a role in Invisible Stripes (1939) as George Raft's younger brother, and this had forced Warner Brothers to place the actor on the first of 11 total suspensions while at the studio. It was only after Warners agreed to allow Garfield to play the lead role in a film based on Maxwell Anderson's 1927 play Saturday's Children that Garfield agreed to first act in Castle.[4]

Before shooting commenced, John Garfield made two demands. First, he stipulated that the original ending, where his character dies in the electric chair for a crime he did not commit, be retained in the movie's script. Second, to seal the deal, Garfield pressed for a $10,000 bonus. Warners agreed to both demands.[5]

The week the film opened in New York City, Garfield guest-starred on the popular NBC network radio program, Cavalcade of America. The March 5, 1940, broadcast promoted his work in a new play, Albert Bein's Heavenly Express, but made no mention of the just-released Castle on the Hudson.[6] Ironically, Bein's play closed after only 20 performances, but Castle became a resounding commercial success.[7]

Critical reaction

An unsigned critique in The New York Times, published during Castle on the Hudson's premiere March 1940 engagement, praised the cast as being "so good that a player like Burgess Meredith appears satisfied with fourth billing." The reviewer, however, panned the stock characters they played, complaining that "you have met them all before, and whether you care to renew the acquaintance or not, here is an excellent opportunity."[8]

According to one of John Garfield's biographers, the actor was disappointed that "the critics did not think more highly of the film or his performance." Further, it seemed he was continually trying to "prove that he had far more range as an actor" than Warners allowed him to demonstrate. So when the studio assigned him another shallow tough-guy role in Flight Angels (1940), he rejected it and, for the second time, was placed on suspension.[9]

In 1977, the Greater Ossining Arts Council featured a film festival under the title of Stars in Stripes Forever. The movies selected for showing were those that were either filmed at or set in Ossining (Sing Sing) Prison. Besides paying tribute to Castle on the Hudson, the festival also saluted such features as Invisible Stripes (1939), Each Dawn I Die (1939), and 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932).[10]

See also

External links


This page was last edited on 10 September 2023, at 20:41
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