Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Green Mile


Here’s one more proof that Stephen King doesn’t need to scare you with hobgoblins or gobhoblins or evil supernatural clowns. In fact, I would venture to say that he does his best work when he avoids all the phony evil of such and sticks to the evil in the human heart, and to a story with little to no fantasy horror theme. I submit to you Stand By Me, and The Shawshank Redemption. There are others. The Green Mile could in fact work pretty well as a stage play, since it takes place almost entirely on the Death Row cell block and execution chamber of a Louisiana State prison in the 1930s. Tom Hanks and his staff of Barry Pepper, David Morse, and Jeffery DeMunn are conscientious prison guards whose entire goal is to carry out the executions as humanely as possible, not easy as Old Sparky is one of the crueler ways of killing people ever developed. Things can go wrong, as proven when the pipsqueak, cowardly, sadistic Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison, and he does piss in his uniform at one point) decides to see what happens if you don’t wet the sponge that goes on the prisoner’s head. Answer: He catches fire and takes a long time to die.

There’s a lot of talk these days about the “magic white man,” who rescues a black person from the bad guys. See The Green Book. There is also the “magic Negro,” someone who shows a white man the error or his ways, or who has supernatural powers of some sort. See too many examples to cite. The Magic Negro arrives in the gigantic person of John Coffey (”Like the drink, only spelled different.”) He is simple, possibly retarded, is scheduled to die for the brutal murders of two white girls. It’s clear that he is far too gentle to have done it, and we learn identity of the rather obvious killer near the end. He also has the power to inhale the sickness out of someone’s body. That could have been left out and not have affected the story all that much, but it’s compelling to see.

I don’t hold with criticizing a story too much for shit like that. Is it a good story? That’s what I want to know. And this is, a very good story, written, acted, and directed wonderfully in all cases. Some complained that, at a little over three hours, it’s a trifle long, but I don’t know where I would have cut it. It never drags. I’m glad that director Frank Darabont felt secure enough to go for the longer length. Who says a movie has to be under two hours? These days it might have been even longer, a six-part mini-series, as the original story was published in six slim paperbacks, and I would have liked it just fine.