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Fortune and Men's Eyes

(Aux yeux du sort et des humains/des prisons et des hommes)

Year: 1971
Language: English
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 102 min
Director: Harvey Hart
Producer: Lester Persky, Lewis Allen
Writer: John Herbert
Cinematographer: Georges Dufaux
Editor: Douglas Robertson
Sound: Joseph Champagne
Music: Galt MacDermot
Cast: Wendell Burton, Michael Greer, Zooey Hall, Danny Freedman, Larry Perkins, Jim Barron
Production Company: Cinemex (Canada) Ltd.

Fortune and Men’s Eyes is the story of Smitty (Wendell Burton), a naive young man who is imprisoned with hardened criminals for a minor crime. Based on John Herbert’s controversial play, which exposed the brutalizing effects of prison life, the film is an indictment of a harsh system that victimized young offenders.

After bidding a tearful farewell to his girlfriend, Smitty is placed in a cell with Rocky (Zooey Hall), Mona (Danny Freedman) and the homosexual Queenie (Michael Greer). Advised to choose an "old man" – a protector to save him from being gang-raped by the other convicts – Smitty turns to Rocky, only to be sodomized by him on a nightly basis.

Smitty finally stands up to Rocky and beats him in a fist fight; the humiliated Rocky commits suicide in solitary confinement. Emboldened by his triumph over Rocky and his new sense of power, Smitty attempts to force himself on the gentle Mona. Queenie, meanwhile, creates a scandal with a lewd drag act and striptease during the prison’s Christmas festivities.

Herbert’s play, though imbued with a sense of authenticity (Herbert himself was imprisoned in Canada in the early fifties), did not translate well to the screen. Although it was shot in a real prison located on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec, and features a convincing ensemble cast (Greer had done more than four hundred performances as Queenie in the Sal Mineo stage production), the film hovers uneasily between exploitative melodrama and valid social commentary. Its depiction of prison life was criticized by Vito Russo in his book The Celluloid Closet as "a country club for sadomasochistic homosexuals."

The film also had a rather chaotic production history. The original director, American Jules Schwerin, was replaced by Harvey Hart nine weeks into the shoot after he and producer Lester Persky accused each other of trying to emphasize sensationalism over prison reform. Hart reportedly eliminated most of the original footage.

Financed by the Canadian Film Development Corporation, with international distribution provided by MGM, Fortune and Men’s Eyes won two Canadian Film Awards for Film Editing (Douglas Robertson) and Supporting Actor (Danny Freedman).

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