Cinerama: The Jericho Mile

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

The Jericho Mile

By Mike Derderian

The horn blew and birds in panic flew. The proud wall of Jericho crumbled in pieces to the ground, as buskined soldiers struck it hard over and over again. “No wall, down with it all. No dignity and no sovereignty,” a footman snarled.

Centuries have passed and the walls of Jericho are still crumbling. Preoccupied with fowls, Arabs no longer dare pick up the stones that are now submerged in tears and blood dripping from the festering bodies of their Palestinian brethrens. Throughout the starry nights that blanket their deathbeds one can even hear Goliath weeping and howling at the accursed winds of change.

How many miles Palestinians still have to run before they can finally stop and gasp for air? No one knows! But it won’t happen until they cross that extra mile the same way Larry ‘Rain’ Murphy (Peter Strauss) did in Michael Mann’s 1979 television movie The Jericho Mile.

I remember watching this sweat drenched drama on television back in the 90s, when I was still a teenager. Mann’s TV movie is about the determination, stamina and will power of one man that served as an inspiration for an entire jail community. It also inspired one teenager and made him believe in his own abilities. No it wasn’t a case of zero to hero but I was able to jump higher in basketball—thanks to harsh leg muscle exercises.

After being found guilty of murder Larry ‘Rain’ Murphy finds himself facing a lifetime in prison. Depressing huh. He was a man with a lot of time in his hands. Now if you were in his place you can either start knitting, read a book or two—or even three—or take a cooking course with the jail chef.

He decided to run time away. But how did he get the nickname “Rain”? Simple, Murphy surprised everyone by his determination to run no matter how bad the weather was.

Watching Murphy tie the laces of his running sneakers, adjust his very short shorts and place a sweatband over his head before he started running was a sight to see. Hey, I was only 15, lost and looking for an idol. Peter Strauss was the man, now he is not but still the old devil looks good.

For a 1979 television movie set in jail cinematography was nothing out of the usual. Of course action was first limited to the spiritual and inner struggle that Murphy was undergoing during his first days behind bars. Now, the healthy way to deal with his struggle was to filter all the negative input he was experiencing like anger, bitterness and loneliness through a physical output: Running was the answer. You know angst is never good when withheld.

Running, the act itself for Murphy, in the early stages was only a medium for a physical salvation. Later on and upon learning how his inmates looked up to him as a symbol of struggle it became a means of redemption and spiritual salvation.

The Walls of Jericho is 120-minute drama of man against the system, man against his jailors and man against the world. Having seen it a long time ago, what I best remember about it is how it made me feel, especially when Murphy crossed the finish line.

Supported by actors like Roger E. Mosley, Richard Lawson and Brian Dennehy Strauss gave quite a sterling performance. By the way the film was shot entirely at Folsom Prison in California. Wait here’s another shocker: Many of the prisoners serving time there had bit parts and acted as extras.

In one of his best performances Strauss was truly inspiring. As an actor he brilliantly managed to bring out the trepidations that a prisoner sentenced to life can experience. His characterization of Murphy was a balance of lethargy, realism, passion and endurance; elements that formulates the everyday man who is not on a mission to save the world.

An avid television actor Strauss is best remembered as Rudy Jordache from the 1976 mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man and Abel Rosnovski from the 1985 Kane & Abel, which was also a popular mini-series. I personally hated his bit role in John Badham’s 1995 suspense thriller Nick of Time. The movie was great but his role sucked.

Sport themed films have provoked millions into challenging their athletic abilities and to push themselves beyond their physical boundaries. The Jericho Mile was the one that pushed me. Thank you Peter Strauss for Larry ‘Rain’ Murphy.

But if you still don’t believe in the boost power of such movies check out the following titles: The Longest Yard (1974), The Champ (1979), Chariots of Fire (1981), American Flyers (1985), The Cutting Edge (1992), White Men Can’t Jump (1992), Rudy (1993), Cool Runnings (1993), Above the Rim (1994) and Swimming Upstream (2003).

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