Jun 15, 2014
Despite ostensibly being the greatest and freest nation in the world, America also has the largest number of people incarcerated out of any other country in the world (in fact, in a 2014 report published by the National Research Council, it was revealed that just under ¼ of the world's prisoners are held in American prisons). Indeed, while the population of America has grown 2.8 times since 1920 to 2006, the number of inmates has grown over 20 times over that same period of time, thus indicating there is something seriously screwed up with the American criminal justice system, among other things (i.e. non-European immigration, liberalism). Indeed, in the glorious United States of America, a person can be imprisoned for selling a soft drug like weed and have the distinct honor of being beaten and sodomized by violent and largely mentally ill murderers, rapists, and other quasi-human rabble. Undoubtedly, as many films and TV shows demonstrate, rape has practically become synonymous with American prisons, yet the general public was not aware of such sickening circumstances until rather recently. In his prison memoir Men Into Beasts (1952), German-American poet/Nazi sympathizer George Sylvester Viereck depicted gay sex in prison as a mostly consensual affair and not as the sort of sexually savage plague that goes on today. Of course, with the desegregation of prisons, flooding of American with third world citizens, and the phony crime-creating drug war, things have certainly changed in the prison world. One of the first films to deal overtly with prison rape and sex slavery was the Canadian-American production Fortune and Men's Eyes (1971) directed by TV hack Harvey Hart (who is probably best known for the mini-series East of Eden (1981) based off Steinbeck’s 1952 novel of the same name) and based on the hit 1967 off-Broadway play of the same name written by Canadian playwright John Herbert (who borrowed the title for his play from Shakespeare's Sonnet 29). Interestingly, in 1969, Sicilian-American Rebel Without a Cause (1955) star Sal Mineo, who was bisexual and rather prideful about that fact, directed a stage version of the play in Los Angeles starring a then rather unknown Don Johnson (who was, at that time, a gay icon of sorts) that was much more violent and sexually provocative than Herbert’s original play. In fact, Mineo hoped to direct the film version of Fortune and Men's Eyes, but Herbert refused to sell him the rights because he eventually became agitated with the Guido stage-director’s alterations of his original play. Based on playwright Herbert’s own personal experiences in the Canadian prison system (like the character of 'Queenie' in the work, he was known to dress in drag while behind bars), the film is a sometimes unsettling tale of sexual savagery that probably deserves some minor cult status, but would have probably been an all the more intriguing work had it been directed by Mineo, who had no qualms about taking a graphic and even S&M-inspired approach to the material. A somewhat troubled production where the original director, Jules Schwerin, was fired after 9 weeks of shooting, Fortune and Men's Eyes has a rather unimpressive aesthetic and even sometimes resembles a TV movie, yet it still manages to be a sometimes disturbing and even comical work with a number of memorable performances that might scare someone straight out of a life in crime lest they get their brown-eye invaded.
Separated from his beloved girlfriend after being sentenced to 6 months in prison, Smitty Smith (played by Wendell Burton of The Sterile Cuckoo (1969) starring Liza Minnelli) is a baby-faced young man with a neat little boy’s haircut who has no idea that he is about to enter a living hellhole of sexual sodomy and slavery where prison guards look the other way when young men are gang-banged and beta-males have to find an “old man” just to survive. Smitty was “busted for grass” after his well meaning old man turned him in and little did his unwitting father realize he would be sentencing his prodigal dope fiend son to forced sodomy. Upon entering prison, Smitty is put in a cell with a flagrantly queer queen named ‘Queenie’ (played by gay cult film icon Michael Greer of The Gay Deceivers (1969) and Messiah of Evil (1973)), a Jew-y dork named Mona (Danny Freedman), and a “third-rate hustler”/wop-ish James Dean wannabe named Rocky (Zooey Hall of the c-grade horror flick I Dismember Mama (1972)). Like Smitty, Mona was sentenced to 6 months and during his first day in prison he was gang-raped by a group of eight men and naturally had trouble walking for an entire week after suffering the superlatively degrading experience. When a dirty dago attempts to rape Smitty at lunch, Rocky, who seems to have taken a strange liking to the young man, comes to his defense, so another young man gets his rectum reamed instead. When Smitty asks why no one is attempting to rescue the young man who is getting anally pillaged, Rocky remarks, “Ain’t nobody gonna’ mess with a man gettin’ his oats.” Of course, the only reason Rocky helped Smitty in the first place is because he wants to make him his bitch and after the two smoke some weed out a shaving razor (!), the former rapes the latter in the shower room. Needless to say, Smitty has learned a lot during his first day in prison and if he ever hopes to be recognized as a man again, he will have to learn how to fight.
As one would suspect, rape victim Smitty becomes Rocky’s bitch boy and is not only forced to bend over for his new anti-homo homo master (indeed, like most men in prison who rape other guys, Rocky denies he is a fag and even goes on a series of anti-fag rants), but also has to roll his cigarettes and make his bed, as if he is his loyal wife. Of course, Rocky is not exactly an alpha-male himself as a failed ex-hustler who used to be the personal bitch of a tall, dark, and handsome prison trustee named Screwdriver (Larry Perkins). Like any half-intelligent inmate, Rocky eventually learned the poof politics of prison and eventually became a player himself. Since Rocky is not very bright and fairly small, it is only a matter of time before Smitty smashes his face and ends his own sexual servitude. Meanwhile, a swarthy Guido prisoner named Catso (Lázaro Pérez), who previously attempted to rape Smitty, is beaten to death by some sadistic prison guards after he makes an accusation to a prison guard that Rocky and Screwdriver stole his lighter. Indeed, Rocky stole the lighter and gives it to his bitch boy Smitty, but the punk is rather tired of being a punk and does not want it, or so he says like a grumpy child whose parents have forced him to eat vegetables at dinner time. After Queenie offers to create a diversion for Smitty while he is in the shower room while ostensibly getting raped, the babyfaced punk punks Rocky and loses his second-rate status in prison. Indeed, Smitty beats Rocky unconscious and the entire prison soon finds out about this rather humiliating fact. At a prison Christmas show where dorky untermensch Mona reads Shakespeare and Queenie does a cabaret show in drag, super macho trustee Screwdriver formally ‘disses’ Rocky and recognizes Smitty as an alpha in front of the entire prison population. At the same Christmas show, Queenie is thrown into solitary confinement for flashing his penis to the entire audience after becoming enraged when his cabaret performance is cut short due to its provocative nature. Not long after the Christmas show, Rocky pulls a shiv on Smitty and ends up in ‘permanent segregation’ where he ultimately commits suicide. In the end, Smitty becomes like Rocky in terms of criminal degeneracy and even attempts to rape Mona, who he previously befriended, but the young nerd talks him out of it and the baby-faced prisoner comes to realize prison has turned him into a monster who now likes having sex with men. In the end, Smitty is stripped of all his clothes and thrown into solitary confinement after Queenie, who tends to transform into a violent psychopath when he does not get his wayward way, starts a bitch fight with him upon learning of Rocky's suicide. As the ending hints, the degenerative cycle of turning men into beasts in prison continues, with the whole 'rehabilitation' angle of incarceration being a joke that only naive liberal morons believe in.
While I clearly never saw Sal Mineo’s stage adaption of Fortune and Men's Eyes as it was performed long before I was born, I suspect the actor was right when he stated in an interview with Boze Hadleigh regarding his opinion of the film version: “Flop time. Unh-unh. Nothin’ like my play—my version. Less integrity.” Indeed, aside from the fact that the gay element of the film feels exceedingly contrived, Fortune and Men's Eyes seems especially outmoded compared to the martial forced sodomy of the HBO prison series Oz (1997-2003), which more or less put every single prison film ever made before it to shame in terms of brutality, nihilism, and all-around nastiness. As for films that depict the obvious anti-rehabilitation first-time prisoners experience in jail, the German flick Die Verrohung des Franz Blum (1974) aka The Brutalisation of Franz Blum directed by Reinhard Hauff makes Fortune and Men's Eyes seem like some sort of impotent ABC Afterschool Special in terms of its depiction of a somewhat level-headed fellow degenerating into a psychopathic predator as a result of his experiences in the pig pen. Ultimately, Fortune and Men's Eyes is a mostly continuously entertaining, surprisingly claustrophobic, and reasonably well acted, if not somewhat blatantly flawed, footnote in prison rape cinema history that would probably have a much larger following if people actually knew the film existed. In terms of educational value, the film is a reminder to prospective criminals to never be a bitch in prison or you might end up being a lapsed man that has to wear tampons on a daily basis.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 9:55 PM
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