Don Siegel's trademark violence and near-documentary realism are already on display in the excellent noir from his early career. Richard Collins' carefully researched script takes pains to sidestep prison movie clichés, focusing instead on some of the issues that had struck producer Wanger during his brief prison hitch. Rather than planning to break out, the inmates' riot is based on well-founded demands for reforms that the warden Emile Meyer already agrees with. The warden himself is a humane figure rather than a tyrant, who, like the sharp convict Neville Brand leading the protest, does his utmost to avoid the use of force. Siegel allows events to unfold credibly, as the convicts' plan escalates from seizing some guards to the anarchic frenzy of a full-scale prison riot. The film avoids melodramatic stereotyping, painting characters on both sides of the conflict with surprising complexity. In a way that is rare in films, but common in the work of Siegel, the characters are forced to accept the coefficient of adversity forced upon them by their roles, and no one ever gets exactly what they want. Among a fine cast, Brand, Meyer, Frank Faylen, Robert Osterloh, and former real-life inmate Leo Gordon stand out, and the film's realism is heightened by the crisp black-and-white photography of Russell Harlan.
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The best film of Don Siegel's career to date, this surprisingly intelligent B-picture describes the dramatic arc of an organized rebellion at Folsom prison. The inmates, who are sick of living conditions which include rundown cells, brutal guards, dreadful food, and the presence of the seriously deranged in the general prison population, decide to stage a riot to demand change. Neville Brand stars as Dunn, the vocal prisoner who leads the uprising. After the inmates take some guards hostage, Dunn makes the prisoner's demands for reform known to the warden Emile Meyer. While acknowledging the validity of their grievances, for which he's already harangued politicians without success, he warns them that there's nothing that can be done immediately. As Dunn contacts media outlets to further publicize his cause, word of the riot spreads to other cell blocks, and they too become involved. Fearing a bloody mass insurrection, Meyer reluctantly calls in the militia. Dunn, who thus far has been able to restrain his disturbed cohort Carnie (Leo Gordon) from inciting violence, is beginning to lose control. Considering its limited budget, the film's impressive sense of authenticity derived partly from the experience of veteran producer Walter Wanger, who had spent four months in a minimum security facility for shooting the agent and lover of his wife, Joan Bennet.
All Movie Guide - Michael Costello
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