Archive for the ‘Caryl Chessman’ Tag

Cell 2455, Death Row (1955)   Leave a comment

cell

Caryl Chessman, called the Red Light Bandit because he used a red light atop his car to pull over couples, rob them, and rape the women, wrote four books during his twelve years on death row. Cell 2455 Death Row came out while Chessman still lived. The film shows Chessman (William Campbell) as a difficult teen who fell in with the wrong crowd and then became a gang leader.

yelly
I said medium rare!

He pleads guilty to some of the robberies, but innocent to the rape charges and acts as his own attorney in court. It gets a bit Alan-Alda-in-the-last-seasons-of-M*A*S*H-y in this part and the whole thing smells strongly of whitewash and Hollywood filtering. Apparently Chessman did a decent job of fending off the electric chair in real life though. Anti-death penalty crusaders protested and wrote songs on his behalf. Biggies like Aldous Huxley, Norman Mailer, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Ray Bradbury wrote letters asking for mercy. SPOILER ALERT: When the film opened he was still with us, but was later executed when the secretary asked by the judge to call the jail for another stay of execution, called the wrong number. By the time she found the correct one, it was too late. No kidding. You can’t make this stuff up. The most interesting part of this film is that William Campbell’s younger brother Robert plays Chessman as a youth. Vince Edwards appears as a fellow criminal. Pretty standard.

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The real Caryl Chessman’s mug shot.

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