“Ain’t nobody gonna mess with a man getting his oats.”
A new inmate (Wendell Burton) quickly learns the hierarchy of prison life from his cellmates: flamboyant Queenie (Michael Greer), dominant Rocky (Zooey Hall), and timid Mona (Danny Freedman).
- Canadian Films
- Character Arc
- Play Adaptations
Fortune and Men’s Eyes (the odd title is taken from a Shakespeare sonnet) is a brave yet ultimately flawed depiction of male prison life. More a theatrical fable than a realistic expose, Fortune… depicts a nightmarish milieu where sex is the primary currency, guards uniformly turn a blind eye to egregious sexual abuse, and inmates are forced to choose their sexual “position” in a rigid hierarchy. In one particularly disturbing scene (which predates Deliverance), Mona (Freedman) is gang-raped during a meal — and while everyone in the room is aware of what’s happening, absolutely nothing is done to stop the situation. Instead, Rocky (Hall) turns the event into a chaotic free-for-all, pouring buckets of water gleefully from the balcony while incongruously cheerful music starts to play on the soundtrack; again, the guards do nothing. It’s a baffling scene to be sure.*
Equally frustrating is the characterization of Rocky, who plays a pivotal role in the film: while Hall gives a decent performance, his character is so poorly written that it’s hard to understand his motivations. He could perhaps be seen as psychopathic in his vacillation between friendship with Burton and bullying domination, but this is never made clear. On the other hand, while some have argued that a character like Queenie (Greer gives a wonderfully vibrant performance) would never be able to hold such a high position in a male-dominated prison, I disagree: in an isolated world where sex is everything, a brash, self-confident man who willingly takes on the role of a woman (and flaunts his sexuality) may very well be able to thrive.
* Update 2/1/21: Having spent the past few years volunteering in a local men’s prison (and learning more about what daily life is like for them), everything about this movie now rings true — including this terrible but no longer incomprehensible scene.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Michael Greer’s stand-out performance as Queenie
- A painfully raw depiction of sexual dominance in prison
No, but it’s recommended for those who enjoy prison flicks. Listed as a film with historical importance and a personal recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.