Last Rung on the Ladder (1987)



Main Cast: Adam Houhoulis, Melisa Whelden

Directors: Adam Cole, Dan Thron

A long time ago, Stephen King established what he called Dollar Babies.  This is a program where anyone can purchase the rights to any of his stories for $1 and make a movie or short film from it, on the condition that they never make any money from it.  Over the years, there have been MANY Dollar Babies, and in some cases, they’ve even launched a career or two.  Frank Darabont of THE GREEN MILE, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and The Walking Dead fame was once a Dollar Baby director (THE WOMAN IN THE ROOM, 1984).

Back in 1987, writers/directors Jim Cole and Dan Thron got together and adapted one of King’s lesser known short stories, The Last Rung on the Ladder from the NIGHT SHIFT collection.

In THE LAST RUNG ON THE LADDER, adult Larry gets news of his sister Kitty’s suicide and reflects on a time when they played a game in their father’s barn when they were kids.  They would climb to the hayloft and jump down into a haystack below.  One time when they were playing, the ladder broke, leaving Kitty dangling high above the ground while Larry frantically tried to move the haystack over to where Kitty was.  He tells her to let go and Kitty, having no idea what Larry was doing, trusts her big brother and lets herself fall.  She breaks her leg, but a broken leg is better than a broken skull.

Years later, she sends him a letter saying it may have been better for her if he’d never moved the hay that day, and the story is over.

Cole and Thron’s adaptation follows the story pretty closely, giving us an 11 minutes 24 second short film that, in the end, establishes they know how to follow along.  Is it a great movie?  It wasn’t a great STORY, so I’m curious what prompted adapting this particular one, unless they had ready access to all the elements: a barn, some hay, two kids and an adult male.  It really is the simplest of stories.  Just not sure if the resulting movie is essential viewing.  But, like I said, it wasn’t exactly a great story to begin with.  This is one of those early King stories I had to read a few times over the years before I could even remember what it was about, and even now, if you’d asked me before I watched the movie what the plot of the story was, I’d have had a hard time recalling it.

Adam Houhoulis and Melisa Whelden play Larry and Kitty respectively, and then, according to IMDB, never appeared in another film.  Likewise adult Larry (Adam Howes) and Larry’s father who shows up five seconds near the end, played by Nat Wordell.

Were they great actors?  I thought the kids did a passable job, given the material.  Adult Larry had zero to work with, and Nat Wordell, in his brief time onscreen and with the ONE line he had, gave the single worst line reading I’ve ever heard.  But the kids were good.

Anne Livermore—again, no post-this movie credits—provides a piano score that adds drama where it needs to and backs off where it doesn’t, although it does get pretty loud and in your face at times.

Overall, THE LAST RUNG ON THE LADDER is simply never going to be one of my King go-to’s, no matter how faithful or well-made an adaptation might be, and this one was pretty faithful, and adequately-made.  I think there may have been a bit more emotional depth to Kitty’s eventual suicide if we’d been given the rest of her backstory, shown what led to it when she was older (at the very least, made it clear the letter was late in getting to him because he forgot to tell her he moved; I didn’t get ANY of that stuff from this film), but it also would have been a bigger movie and required way more resources than I’m sure either Cole and Thron were able or prepared to dump into it.  This is a Dollar Baby in every sense of the word, was probably filmed with whatever video camera one of them already had, with people they knew from the area.  If someone told me there were auditions for this project and these were the best actors of the bunch, I’d call bullshit.  These were the people they had on-hand to be in their movie.

THE LAST RUNG ON THE LADDER was a one-off for these guys (Cole would, decades later, go on to be AD on a bunch of stuff I’ve never heard of, while Thron would eventually be a matte painter and digital effects artist on movies like TRANSFORMERS: Dark of the Moon, and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR), and will be the same for anyone who watches it.  I can’t see any world where someone comes back to this movie a second time unless they’re trying to review ALL of Stephen King’s movies from start to finish.  Even then, I did it in one viewing, and so can you.

THE LAST RUNG ON THE LADDER is available for free on YouTube

King on Film

Carrie (1976)

‘Salem’s Lot (1979)

The Shining (1980)

Creepshow (1982)

The Boogeyman (1982)

Cujo (1983)

Disciples of the Crow (1983)

The Woman in the Room (1983)

The Dead Zone (1983)

Christine (1983)

Children of the Corn (1984)

Firestarter (1984)

Word Processor of the Gods (1984)

Cat’s Eye (1985)

Silver Bullet (1985)

Srazhenie (1986)

Gramma (1986)

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Stand By Me(1986)

The Lawnmower Man (1987)

Creepshow 2 (1987)

A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

The Running Man (1987)

Sorry, Right Number (1987)

Pet Sematary (1989)

The Cat From Hell (1990)

The Graveyard Shift (1990)

IT (1990 Mini-Series)

Misery (1990)

The Moving Finger (1991)

Sometimes They Come Back (1991)

Golden Years (1991)

The Lawnmower Man (1992)

Sleepwalkers (1992)

Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1992)

The Dark Half (1993)

The Tommyknockers (1993)

Needful Things (1993)

The Stand (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

The Mangler (1995)

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

The Langoliers (1995)

Sometimes They Comes Back … Again (1996)

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)

Thinner (1996)

The Shining (1997)

Ghosts (1997)

Chattery Teeth (1997)

The Revelations of ‘Becka Paulson (1997)

Trucks (1997)

The Night Flier (1997)

Chinga (1997)

Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)

Gerald’s Game (2017)

1922 (2017)

The Stand (2021)

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