Time Without Pity


Review by Hans Sherrer

For Justice Denied Magazine

December 14, 2002


Released to theaters in 1957, B&W, 88 minutes. Released on VHS in 1995.

Cast: Michael Redgrave as David Graham, Ann Todd as Honor Stanford, Leo McKern as Robert Stanford, Peter Cushing as Jeremy Clayton, Alec McCowen as Alan Graham, and Christina Lubicz as Jenny Cole.

Director: Joseph Losey

Screenplay by: Ben Barzman

Based on a play by Emlyn Williams

Only available in VHS format. Available for rent at some video stores, is in the video collection of some public libraries, and can be purchased from sources such as Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.


††††††††††† Time Without Pity is one of those low budget British films from the 1950s that are typically shown late at night on Turner Classic Movies or the Independent Film Channel. Yet one look at the cast and people behind its production indicates it is anything but a B flick.

††††††††††† The movie opens with a stark scene of a young woman being attacked in a room and killed by a fortyish man. The movie then cuts to some time in the future, as a disheveled middle-aged man who looks like he just stepped out of a gin joint is picked up at Londonís airport by a well-dressed gentleman. The traveler is the father of a young man scheduled to be executed the next morning for the murder of the young woman, and the gentleman is the young manís lawyer.

††††††††††† The father is an alcoholic writer who has been in a Canadian sanitarium during the entire time of his sonís legal ordeal. This was possible in the England of the 1940s and 50s, since as little as six months could pass from the time of someoneís arrest to their execution. The father approaches his sonís impending execution with the same level of obsessiveness that one can imagine he approached his drinking Ė full tilt. He had failed his son at every other turn in life, and he doesnít want to do so when there wonít be a chance for redemption. It is almost too much for him to handle when he realizes that if his son is to be saved it is up to him, and he only has 24 hours to do so. His sonís lawyer has given up hope that solid evidence of his innocence can be found and presented to the authorities in time to stop his execution. The clock pitilessly tick tock ticks on, one second at a time.

††††††††††† The pressure on the father is compounded by him not having anything to go on except blind faith that his son is telling the truth that he didnít have anything to do with the young womanís murder. On the surface the case against his son appears damning, but it is purely circumstantial. The victim was his girlfriend, she was found dead in an apartment where he was staying, and she was holding a locket with his picture in it. However, there are no witnesses or physical evidence tying him to the womanís murder. Looking at what happened with a fresh pair of eyes, the father feverishly races around the city questioning people who knew his son or the dead woman, or who might know some crucial but overlooked detail about the night she was killed that will unlock the iron door sealing his sonís fate.

††††††††††† Although it may seem preposterous that Time Without Pity revolves around a father feverishly trying to find overlooked evidence in 24 hours that will prove his condemned son is innocent - it isnít. There have been dozens of condemned people professing their innocence that were granted a reprieve only hours prior to their scheduled execution, and later exonerated. Some of those people were actually strapped into the electric chair or the gas chamber gurney and were only minutes from being executed for a crime they didnít commit. In many of those cases it was a relative, friend or even college students that found the crucial evidence.

††††††††††† Time Without Pity is true to real life by portraying that to varying degrees the characters lead ďmessy lives.Ē Emphasizing the wrongness of his predicament, the condemned man led the most honorable life of all the significant characters in the movie. The ending of the movie is unexpected and has a unique twist. Yet it rings true by not sugar coating that someone sitting on death row waiting to be executed is deadly serious, and it is deadly serious for someone to try to avert it from happening.

††††††††††† The filmís theme of a good and decent man horribly wronged by people blind to the truth, and its accurate character portrayal of people willing to sacrifice others to satisfy their blind ambition may have been a reflection of the real-life experiences of the filmís director, Joseph Losey, and its screenwriter, Ben Barzman. Both had successful careers in the film industry derailed after being blacklisted from working in the U.S. under their own names during the reign of McCarthyism. The film, made in England in 1957, was the first that gave directorial credit to Losey after his blacklisting in the U.S.

††††††††††† Given that the viewer knows from the first scene that the condemned man is innocent, Time Without Pity depends on powerful performances and the tension revolving around whether his debilitated father can find a way to stop the execution. Michael Redgrave is brilliant as the alcoholic father who becomes increasingly desperate to find some way to prove his sonís innocence and save him from having his life snuffed out. Although it has been almost five decades since it was first seen by moviegoers, Time Without Pity stands up remarkably well as solid entertainment. Neither has it lost any of its relevance as a cautionary tale that no matter how guilty someone may appear at first glance, if you look below the surface their innocence may be plain as day.

††††††††††† Time Without Pity is a classic example that a thoughtful and engrossing movie can be made on a modest budget if the production has a first-rate director, a well-written script and heartfelt acting performances. It may take a little sleuthing to track down a copy of Time Without Pity, but it is well worth taking the time to do so.