Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

August 13, 2020

behind the scenes with Tom Conway on the set of THE LAST MAN TO HANG (UK, 1956)

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last man to hang 2

Mary Anne and I are planning to watch the 1956 UK courtroom thriller THE LAST MAN TO HANG, starring TOM CONWAY, tonight (directed by the great Terence Fisher) and in doing a little online sleuthing about the film in advance, I see that there is footage online from a 1956 Pathe Newsreel (Film Fanfare) of some lady and a friend getting a tour of Nettlefold Studios, where the film was being shot, and meeting its stars, Tom Conway and Eunice Gayson, as well as director Fisher and other unnamed persons employed at the studio. Director Conway is the shortish man with glasses on the set wearing a rumpled coat.

This kind of footage, even though it is just silent with a canned music track, is a priceless window into a working 1950’s UK low-budget film studio, something we probably would not have been able to see in person even if we’d been in Britain in 1956.

Conway appears again near the closing when the lady and her friend are finished at the studio and waving goodbye, in a quick but charming bit of physical comedy, starting at 4:08. Unlike Conway’s many detective films, THE LAST MAN TO HANG is not a film that offers him comic situations, so it’s nice to see that side of him represented here.

Below you’ll find a brief (and recent) trailer for the film and then the Pathe newsreel footage. I have a blog post on Tom Conway’s radio work as Sherlock Holmes (replacing Basil Rathbone for the 46-47 season) coming up soon….stay tuned!

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trailer for a 2018 TV showing of THE LAST MAN TO HANG

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1956 British Pathe newsreel footage, backstage during the filming of THE LAST MAN TO HANG, runs approximately 4:40

Film Fanfare #5, 1956 (British Pathe newsreel footage)

There are hundreds of hours of fascinating vintage newsreel footage available for free viewing at the British Pathe website. I remember that it was considered quite an event when this material went online a number of years ago. Footage spans from 1910-1984! Check it our here:    https://www.britishpathe.com/

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postscript: after watching THE LAST MAN TO HANG tonight, I must say that it was excellent, intelligent, thoughtfully written, and well-acted by all….until the last 3 minutes. I’m not going to give a spoiler, but let’s just say that it has to be among the top 10 most absurd and illogical tacked-on endings I’ve ever seen to a film…in 50 years of watching crime/mystery/legal-thriller features. No wonder the film has never been reissued on DVD and is not discussed much, even though it was released in the US by a major studio, Columbia. Still, Tom Conway was his usual masterful self, and the young Anthony Newley (as one of the jurors) possessed magnetism even in 1956. Also, the film’s structure (let’s forget the last three minutes) is quite novel, as before we really get to know Conway’s character at all, we see the home-lives of all the jury members (who will sit in judgment on him), and to call their home lives unpleasant would be an understatement. While THE LAST MAN TO HANG is nothing like the 2003 film THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE, viewers will have the same WTF reaction at the end of LAST MAN as they did with the DAVID GALE film, and probably get angry at the film’s writers. However, in 1956, this was just a throwaway programmer, in circulation for a few months and then mothballed. And the first 68 minutes of it are excellent, so 95.7% of THE LAST MAN TO HANG is excellent–that’s not a bad percentage, and most people coming out of the theater in 1956 could remember that “on the whole, it’s pretty good” and move on. The film is based on a novel, and if that has the same trick ending, it must surely be set up better than it is in the film, where a few small details in a very early scene (that most viewers will not pay attention to) vaguely suggest a possibility that is never developed or explained at any point in the film, and the odd and illogical conclusion takes for granted without explanation. In fact, I’d guess half of a typical audience of above-average intelligence viewers would not even make the connection, if it indeed IS a connection. I didn’t intend to discuss this at such length, but to say the last few minutes were bizarre and unsatisfying would be putting it mildly….

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