Jeff Blankenship’s The Last Rung on the Ladder . A.K.A ” A New Classic Among Dollar Babies”
If there is one thing I love in movies based upon another media, is when the writers change something and allow themselves to create something new. Sometimes they even create something better. Yes, sometimes (so many times) when they change things from the original source it ruins the story for the fans (We all have some movies based upon our favorite books that we wished they have never done it at all), but this version of “The last rung on the ladder” is one of those cases where the writers and the director did their job so well that they made the story became even better than the original short tale.
No, don’ t get me wrong (don’t hate me yet), Stephen King is my favorite author and I think he is a genius. But, this new version of “The Last Rung on the Ladder” is so damn good!!!! And I will try to explain why.
First of all, everyone who get the chance to watch this short movie should stand up and applaud Max Blaska and Karla S. Bryant, the screenwriters. What a beautiful screenplay, so well adapted. I usually read the original source before I watch a movie that was adapted from some author I know/love. And, for this Dollar Baby (my first review here at SKSM) I picked up the book and read the short tale it again. It’s been so long since the first time I read this tale, but it is still a classic, still such a power full story. And the first thing I would like to congratulate the screenwriters about is how damn good they were at adapting a short tale written at the 70ths and now they made it looks like if Mr. King had wrote this yesterday.
They updated the story without losing its soul. They respect the original tale (thank God) and they still made something new, something better. And, I am pretty sure , they made something that looks like theirs.
The first of so many welcome changes they made was Larry’s new job: at the short tale he was a lawyer, now he is a psychologist. He wrote 3 books that helped a lot people to deal with their own personal demons. And now he is at this event where he will honored for his work. But, he is felling like shit, like an impostor. And that is when this dollar baby became interesting. Larry Gatlin is also dealing with his own demons, his own regrets, just like he is at the original tale.
At Stephen King’s book, the story is about regret and this part of the story, the soul of it, is respected at the short movie, but once they changed his profession the whey they did at the short movie, they added new layers to the character, making him much more interesting and believable. And the writers went even further, because this change of professions introduces us to the new main theme of the short movie: Mental Illness.
The original short tale focus on what happened when Larry and Kitty (his baby sister) were playing a dangerous game at the family farm. For what happens next, King only wrote a few lines, maybe 15% of the story, while the farm incident is the major part of the story. The story is about the bounds we have with those we love, it is about what may happen when those bounds get lost, when we fall apart from those we love. The original tale talks about regrets. And it is all in there too, at the movie. But regret became a second subject when they start talking about Mental illness. And, in my opinion, this is the greatest achievement of this short movie.
They don’t focus on the farm incident, but at what happens next. How did this kids grow up? How did they fall apart? How did Kitty fell about her brother’s distance? How much did she need him? It is all in there. There are so many layers at this movie that I can’t even begin to list the most important ones. But if there is another great achievement at this movie its name is “The Carnival Barker of Despair”. Carnival Barker of Despair is the name of a new character they add to the story and it is not only one of the best new things, but it is also such a Stephen King character. I bet that when Mr. King watches this movie he might think “damn, I wish I had wrote this character”. The Carnival Barker of Despair is the physical manifestation of Larry’s inside demons, the physical manifestation of that voice that we all have inside us all. The voice that is the worst judge of our own acts. This character is so present at the movie, even when he is not at the scene. And it is so well written, so natural at the story that if you have never read the short tale you will think that Stephen King wrote the character.
When the movie talks about Mental Illness it brought to the table such an important theme to discuss. When King wrote Last rung on the ladder, it was a different world. Back then, we did not understand Mental Illness the way we do now. We did not respect Mental illness the way we do now. But even now a days we don’t talk about it enough. We should. And that is why this short movie is so important. Thank you, Max and Karla. It is pretty clear that not only you know what you are talking about, but most important: you both care about it.
I know I am taking too long talking about the writers, even though they deserve it. But I will say one last thing about the screenplay before I move to another subject: Kitty’s character. The way Kitty’s character became more present at the story is one more thing that differentiates these short movie from another dollar babies based upon The Last Rung on the Ladder. At this version we are not only able to see and understand even more of this character, but also (and more important) we can finally hear her. Hear her words beyond Larry’s memories of that day at the farm. Hear her sad words beyond what she wrote at her letter to Larry years later. Hearing Kitty was a great and beautiful surprise.
Well, now that I took it out my chest (sorry about that, it was the screenwriter in me talking) now we can talk about some other things that makes this movie a great Dollar Baby. Let’s talk about the director, Jeff Blankenship. The first thing I want to say about his work is how good he is at choosing his cast! Man, what a cast! This should be a compliment only for the actors and their job at the movie (and it is), but it needs a good director to not only choose the right actors for the roles, but also it needs a talented director to get the best of those actors. And I do believe Jeff Blankenship was the right man for the job. Another great achievement of his? Let’s talk about directing Kids at a movie: let’s be honest, having a kid at an important role in a movie is always a risk. Kids sometimes can be difficult, unpredictable, moody (I am a father, I know it). And when you are making a movie, sometimes shooting a scene takes too long (most of times). We, adults, sometimes get bored, we get tired. Now, imagine a kid. Two Kids at this movie. So, that is why I congratulate not only the talent of Tyler Love and Ruby Mandli (the kids), but also the director’s eye that saw the talent inside them and knew how to take the best of it for the scenes.
I can also see Blankenship’s talent as a director in so many other levels, I can see his hand and his vision at little details that helped this short movie to became such a fluid experience for the audience. I saw his interview here at SKSM and in there he says that he had to defend some different opinions for the movie against Max Blaska’s opinion: for example, Blaska wanted to be faithful to the original tale ‘ s chronology, Blankenship didn’t want that. He said to the writer “trust me” and the writer did. And, guess what? In the end, the director “was right”. That is the director’s hand, the way he trust his own view. A good director already sees the movie done in his head, even before he went to the set. And that happens only with the good directors. Jeff Blankenship, I could say it again that you were right, but I will say something different: thank you!
Another great choice of his was the soundtrack: the original songs and the song at the credits, man… it would make Quentin Tarantino proud of you, Mr. Blankenship. I am still singing “Tightrope” in my head, the lyrics talks to the story in such a perfect way!
To finish this review (are you guys still with me?) I need to say something about the actors, again: they are so talented in so many ways, they all shine at some moment. The Kids, the adults, they all shine (they all float in here), but I need to give Brian Belz’s acting some more attention: he not only is brilliant at this role, but he also enters at the “Stephen King ‘ Hall of antagonists”. Mr. King did not write this character, but he could. He should! This is a character we all know, we all have a Carnival Barker of Despair inside our heads. And you, Mr. Belz, you gave life to all of them.
Speaking about “giving voice”, let’s talk a little more about Kayla Kelly acting: her character at the movie, seeing more of Kitty’s presence at this Dollar Baby, it was such a gift. Kayla’s talent helped the audience to finally hear Kitty’s voice and so many other voices that suffers at the same problems/ illness. Even in silence we could her Kitty’s voice during Kayla’s acting. Her presence in scene is so power full. Thank you, Kayla.
The Dollar Baby’s grade? We from Stephen King Short Movies give “The Last Rung on the Ladder” 5 fingers from the dead guy’s hand!!!!
See you next time, Constant Readers