Moonlight and Roses

Under a concrete portico which shelters him from a heavy storm, James Mallahan Cain, 36-year-old reporter for the New York World, is puffing on a black briar pipe. It's a warm night for mid-January, otherwise snow would be falling on the peninsula jutting out into the Hudson River. In the distant darkness, Cain can faintly make out the chanting of a crowd which has gathered outside the front gates of Sing Sing prison. A cloying fragrance wafts up from the areas just below, a rose garden and aviary, the handiwork of convicted murderer Charles Chapin who was once editor of Cain's paper. A door opens and another man steps out. He introduces himself as Thomas Howard, a staffer from the Chicago Tribune brought in by the Daily News to cover the execution. Before he lights his cigarette, Howard puts his right foot up on a low wall and checks a small camera strapped to his calf. Cain opines that even if he snaps a picture, getting a usable image is unlikely. Howard is about to answer, when a third man steps out, a dour-faced Robert G. Elliot. Howard drops his leg before Elliot can catch a glimpse.

As they smoke, the three men, discuss their reason for being there: to witness the death of two notorious killers, the "blond fiend" Ruth Snyder and her lover Judd Gray. Cain expects that both will go their deaths protesting their innocence and blaming the other. Howard has not followed the trial closely and Elliott knows nothing at all about it, so Cain recounts it for them: three versions of one murder. Unquestionably, Albert Snyder was found dead, the victim of a blow to the head with a sash weight from a casement window. FLASHBACKS reveal the three different versions of the crime: Ruth Snyder's, Judd Gray's, and the Long Island District Attorney's. But will anyone ever know the truth of who was the mastermind of the crime or which participant might have been the dupe of the other?

Cain left the newspaper for game for fiction and went on to use the story of Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray as the basis for two of his most famous novels, Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Thomas Howard's photograph is one of the most famous in the history of photo-journalism, but he toiled the remainder of his life in obscurity and his name is all but unknown today. Until an enterprising reporter followed him from the death house to his home in Queens, Robert Elliot was an anonymous executioner. He killed over a hundred people before his retirement in 1944.


Text, Copyright © 2018 Pendragon Film Ltd.