“Hangman, hangman, hold it a little while. Think I see my friends coming, riding a many mile. ... What did you bring me, my dear friends, to keep me from the gallows pole?” — Led Zeppelin
I stood at the employee entrance to The News-Gazette on Nov. 4, the fateful, pre-ordained “date of closure” — and for a long, agonizing moment, held my breath.
Then I punched in the super-secret entry code.
Without hesitation, as if there had ever been any doubt, the door unlocked, and I could enter, just like every other day since I first walked in that door 32 years ago. And, oh, yeah, at least for another day, I could breathe again.
Apparently, with little or no fanfare or announcement of any sort, the newspaper’s date of closure had been postponed. Bottom line: We still work here for another week.
Since then, the date’s been updated to Sunday, but for the present, or at least until that day, things proceed here as always. Time expired, but the ax didn’t fall.
Just like the condemned hero in that old black-and-white prison drama, we got a last-minute reprieve!
Yeah, you just knew there was a movie analogy lurking somewhere in all of this, didn’t you? I’m just pleased as punch to still be here to draw that analogy, because, to be honest, that particular Hollywood cliche — in which the hero is saved from certain death on the gallows, guillotine, firing squad, what have you, by the timely arrival of a messenger, courier or phone call with the news of his pardon — almost never happens in real life.
Thank goodness it happens often enough in movies, television and other forms of fiction that it allows us the hope that it could happen to us, should we ever need it to, as well. Such wishful thinking forms the basis of some of our favorite inspirational maxims: “Don’t give up the ship”; “Never say die”; “It ain’t over till it’s over”; “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”
Oh, wait. I think I hear her clearing her throat. Before she works up to full voice, allow me to use this new lease on life, this once-in-a-lifetime break I’ve been given to count off these cinematic second chances I know as:
MY FIVE FAVORITE MOVIE LAST-MINUTE REPRIEVES
— “Top Secret!” (1984). In this parody of WWII-era spy movies from Jim Abrahams and David Zucker, Val Kilmer plays an American rock ’n’ roll singer who becomes involved in a resistance plot to rescue a scientist imprisoned in East Germany and ultimately winds up facing a firing squad. For PR reasons, the Germans decide not to execute Kilmer’s character at the last minute, but the gag is that as the firing squad is getting ready to aim and fire, the phone rings, and the crucial pick-up waits on an excruciatingly slow old lady with a walker.
— “Almost Heroes” (1998). Chris Farley in his final starring role embarks on this comic spoof of the Lewis & Clark expedition literally from the gallows, thanks to the last-minute (“but not too fast”) intervention of “Friends” alum Matthew Perry.
— “The Front Page” (1974). One of my favorite news media comedies from director Billy Wilder stars Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in one of their 10 big-screen pairings as a tabloid editor and his soon-to-be-retired ace reporter on the trail of a story about a death-row convict whose last-minute reprieve from the governor is covered up by the local mayor and the sheriff.
— “Goin’ South” (1978). Mary Steenbergen saves condemned horse thief Jack Nicholson from the gallows by agreeing to marry him. That’s a promising enough set-up, but the best thing about this Old West comedy, directed by Nicholson, is that the badge-wearing bad guys are played by Christopher Lloyd and John Belushi, two of the funniest guys of their generation, though neither’s at his funniest here.
— “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (1991). Kevin Costner as the title outlaw must rescue Little John’s son Wulf (and several other of his friends) from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s hangman, and does so as only a legendary archer can — literally in the nick of time — though it takes him two arrows to cut the rope already stringing up the poor kid. Hey, just because he’s a legend doesn’t mean a guy is perfect.
— “Camelot” (1967). Franco Nero as Lancelot rescues Vanessa Redgrave as Guenivere from burning at the stake — after it’s been lit, of course.
— “Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi” (1983). Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Chewbacca are all destined for the main course on the Ewoks’ menu until Mark Hamill as Luke uses the Force — and a less than willing C-3PO — to persuade them otherwise. If not for the Force being strong with young Skywalker, this scene, the whole film franchise and definitely the Ewoks’ marketability as a children’s toy all go a totally different direction.
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