Fortune and Men's Eyes


1h 42m 1971

Brief Synopsis

A young innocent quickly learns the ropes when he faces sexual assault behind bars.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Prison
Adaptation
Release Date
Jun 1971
Premiere Information
World premiere in New York: 16 Jun 1971
Production Company
Canadian Film Development Corp.; Cinemex International; Elgin Films, Limited
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Country
Canada and United States
Location
Quebec-Quebec Prison,Canada; Quebec, Canada
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Fortune and Men's Eyes by John Herbert (Stratford, ON, Canada, Oct 1965; New York, 23 Feb 1967).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Metrocolor)

Synopsis

Sentenced to six years in prison on his father's testimony for a small drug possession charge, soft-spoken, naïve Smitty is assigned to share a cell with tough hustler Rocky, transvestite Greely and Mona, a passive, effeminate man. A flamboyant raconteur, Greely goes by the name "Queenie" and brags about his political power in the prison, which enables him to have new clothes and plenty of cigarettes, a popular trading commodity. Queenie offers to help Smitty find an "old man," another inmate with whom to trade sex for protection, and explains that if he does not, he will become "public property" and be regularly gang-raped, a fate suffered by Mona. However, Smitty, unable to accept the dehumanizing choices, tells Queenie he is not homosexual and continues to pine for his girl friend. In the mess hall later, Rocky breaks inmate Catso's nose for trying to steal food from Smitty's tray, and is sentenced to isolation. Days later, Smitty is suddenly cornered by a group of men who plan to gang-rape him, but Rocky, having just been released, protects him and thus claims Smitty as his subordinate sexual partner. Meanwhile another man is chosen to be gang-raped, and the prison guards ignore the ensuing violence. Later, Queenie, provocatively dressed as a cigarette girl, sells cigarettes and chocolate in the hospital ward, where he barters with the doctor for peroxide to bleach his hair, aspirins for Mona and amphetamines. Back in the cell, Rocky shares some marijuana with Smitty, who still believes Rocky is acting out of friendship. Rocky then warns Smitty that "faggots will stab you in the back" and tells him how he landed in prison: Rocky has been given a car and free use of a penthouse apartment by his wealthy gay lover, who expects sexual favors in exchange. One night, after the lover leaves him tied to a bed after performing sadomasochistic sexual acts, Rocky flees then sells the man's car and jewelry. Rocky is arrested when his lover reports him to the police. In the present, offering to be Smitty's "old man," Rocky says that he will kill anyone who lays a hand on him. Still unaware of what the term means, Smitty shakes his hand gratefully. Rocky then turns all the faucets on in the shower room to drown out any noise, forcefully throws Smitty into the stall and rapes him despite Smitty's pleas. His dominance over Smitty established, Rocky orders him to make his bed, roll his cigarettes and serve him in front of others. Days later, Mona, trying to lift Smitty's spirits, asks about his family and then quotes a Shakespearean sonnet he has been practicing for the Christmas show, prompting Rocky to lash out against him. When Smitty tries to defend the helpless man, Rocky slaps Smitty repeatedly and attempts to rape him in the showers, but Queenie interrupts them. Later, after Catso threatens to hurt Smitty, Rocky steals Catso's lighter. When Catso furiously accuses Rocky of stealing, the guards, looking for an excuse to abuse the prisoners, lock up Catso for causing trouble and whip him mercilessly. The other inmates bang their cups against the bars of their cells, drowning out Catso's screams for mercy. When Catso dies in a few days from "pneumonia," Rocky gives the lighter to Smitty, who rejects it in disgust. Later, Queenie goads Smitty to physically resist Rocky, promising that he and the other inmates will stand behind him. Following Rocky's orders, Smitty goes to the shower, but once there, he hits Rocky in the groin, sending him to his knees. As Queenie leads the inmates in a boisterous rendition of "Silent Night," a brutish fistfight ensues, until Smitty chokes Rocky unconscious. Later, at the Christmas show attended by prison authorities and their families, Queenie, dressed in a long black evening gown, heavy stage makeup and red lightbulbs for nipples, descends from a ladder while he sings a campy song mocking their imprisonment. Screaming obscenities and rolling his hips to the live drum accompaniment, Queenie proceeds to strip down to a bra and panties, which causes the attending prison officials to usher guests out. A brawl quickly ensues, resulting in Queenie being sentenced to isolation. Later, Smitty asserts his dominance by demanding that Rocky move to his old bed and slaps him repeatedly when he does not oblige. Humiliated, Rocky pulls out a knife fashioned from a spoon, threatens Smitty and runs out of the cell when the guards come to take him away. Screaming that Smitty is to blame, Rocky starts a water fight among the men and races up and down the prison staircases until he is finally caught and sentenced to isolation. Soon after, Rocky is found dead from an apparent suicide. Back in the cell, Mona reveals the reason for his incarceration to Smitty: While in college, four men gang-rape him until a policeman intervenes. When Mona goes to court against the perpetrators, the men accuse Mona of soliciting them, resulting in a six-month sentence for Mona. Smitty, who has become cocky because of his victory over Rocky, boasts to Mona that he will become the new political power in the prison and promises to give Mona privileges. However, when Smitty asks for sex in return, Mona questions Smitty about his new obsession with power and claims that Smitty will only treat him with indifference once they have sex. Furious and confused, Smitty starts to beat Mona, thus proving Mona's point. When Queenie suddenly walks in and sees the two men crying in each other's arms, he jealously attacks Smitty. The ruckus prompts the guards to lock Smitty in solitary as he screams that it is Queenie's fault in a scene similar to Rocky's demise.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Prison
Adaptation
Release Date
Jun 1971
Premiere Information
World premiere in New York: 16 Jun 1971
Production Company
Canadian Film Development Corp.; Cinemex International; Elgin Films, Limited
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Country
Canada and United States
Location
Quebec-Quebec Prison,Canada; Quebec, Canada
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Fortune and Men's Eyes by John Herbert (Stratford, ON, Canada, Oct 1965; New York, 23 Feb 1967).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Metrocolor)

Quotes

Trivia

Harvey Hart replaced Jules Schwerin as director after 9 weeks of shooting.

Michael Greer was one of the original actors in the Los Angeles stage production of "Fortune and Men's Eyes" produced and directed by actor Sal Mineo.

Title is taken from a Shakespearean poem entitled "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes".

Notes

An onscreen credit reads: "Produced with the assistance of The Canadian Film Development Corporation." In the opening credits, the filmmakers gratefully acknowledge the Quebec Department of Justice and Department of Public Works. Although all the prison inmates are male, many have "female" roles in the prison caste system and are referred to by their female nicknames and female pronouns. The sonnet that "Mona" recites in the film, Shakespeare sonnet #29, opens with the line "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes," which was used for the title of the film.
       The play Fortune and Men's Eyes, on which the film was based, was written by Canadian John Herbert (1926-2001), who was born John Herbert Brundage and became a professional female impersonator at in the 1940s. After Herbert was mugged one night by several men, he reported the incident to the police, but his accusers claimed that he had solicited them. He was consequently sentenced to six months in the Mimico Reformatory outside Toronto, where he was repeatedly raped and beaten. This experience became the basis for Fortune and Men's Eyes.
       Although the play was initially performed at a workshop during the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, it did not have a public performance there due to its homosexual content. After the Actor's Studio performed it for the New York debut in 1967, the play went on to be produced in many different countries as a testament to the need for prison reform. As a result of the film, the "Fortune Society" was created, which performed outreach services for ex-prisoners and published newsletters exposing the shortcomings of the prison system. The 1969 Off-Broadway production of the play Fortune and Men's Eyes, which was notable for being one of the first plays to feature male on-stage nudity, starred Michael Greer, who then reprised his role of "Queenie" for the film.
       According to a March 1, 1968 Variety article, producer Donald Ginsberg originally had optioned the film under his production company, VIP Productions, and was planning to make the film that fall. By July 23, 1968, Daily Variety reported that Ginsberg and Nox Lempert were to produce the film for Elgin Films Ltd. with Jules Schwerin set to direct. Although they had planned to produce the film in December 1968, it was not until September 1970 that Daily Variety reported that M-G-M and the Canadian Film Development Corporation had teamed up to finance the film.
       Schwerin was to have made his directorial debut in Fortune and Men's Eyes, but after five weeks of shooting in the fall of 1970, he was replaced by director Harvey Hart due to artistic differences, according to a December 2, 1970 Daily Variety article. A January 13, 1971 Variety article noted that although Schwerin had signed a release freeing all parties from any action, he was suing for screen credit on the film [which he did not receive]. Schwerin stated that producer Lester Persky had insisted on emphasizing nudity and homosexual acts over the social content implicit in the play. In a June 16, 1971 Variety article, Schwerin stated, after watching a screening of the film, that only five truncated scenes of his remained in the film. In a May 1971 After Dark interview, Herbert stated that he had written the screenplay years previous to the film's production and revised it for Schwerin, in whom he had had great confidence. He also noted that Hart extensively altered dialogue in the script and added Rocky's suicide scene.
       Fortune and Men's Eyes was shot on location at the Prison de Quebec in Quebec City, which, according to production notes on the film, had been deactivated earlier in 1970. Some of the prison guards and previously released inmates acted in the film. Zooey Hall made his American feature film debut in the picture.
       Most reviews of the film noted that while the play was a call for prison reform, the film exploited the violent and homosexual material. The July 1971 Interview review claimed that the film had no "insight into . . . the human psyche," while in a August 1, 1971 New York Times article, a gay activist claimed the film hurt the homosexual community more than it helped. He also concluded that the ad campaign stating "What goes on in prison is a crime" only added to the fueling the sentiment that homosexual acts should remain outlawed.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971

Released in United States March 20, 1992

Shown at the Gay & Lesbian Media Coalition's "Out on the Screen" festival March 20, 1992.

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971

Released in United States March 20, 1992 (Shown at the Gay & Lesbian Media Coalition's "Out on the Screen" festival March 20, 1992.)