Don Siegel directed this self-explanatory 1954 melodrama that remains one of the quintessential American prison films, addressing issues that remain relevant today.
Filmed on location at Folsom Prison, which lends considerable authenticity to the proceedings, the taut storyline follows a group of prisoners who protest unfair conditions by commandeering the titular cell block and taking several hostages.
The solid cast includes real-life World War II hero Neville Brand, first-rate as the lead prisoner Dunn; Emile Mayer as the hard-nosed but not unsympathetic warden; and real-life Folsom ex-con Leo V. Gordon as Mike Carnie, the most unstable of the prisoners (he’s not called “Crazy Mike” for nothing).
Richard Collins’ screenplay offers an even-handed approach that further enhances credibility. The prisoners aren’t just frothing thugs and the authorities not simply heartless bureaucrats.
Siegel’s straightforward, pseudo-documentary approach lends the film a crackling pace – the suspense mounting with each passing moment.
The DVD retails for $24.95, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $39.95.
As usual, Criterion provides plenty of extras.
AMISTAD (Paramount): The Blu-ray bow ($22.98 retail) of Steven Spielberg’s fact-based 1997 drama about African slaves who overtake their transport ship in 1839 and are then tried, forcing the young United States to examine the issue of slavery in a court of law. Well-intentioned but often on the academic, preachy, and rather overlong side. An all-star cast includes Morgan Freeman, Matthew McConaughey, Pete Postlethwaite, Stellan Skarsgard, David Paymer, Peter Firth, Chiwetel Ejiofor (in his film debut), Nigel Hawthorne (as President Martin Van Buren) and Anthony Hopkins (Oscar nominee as Best Supporting Actor), in a lively turn as former US President John Quincy Adams, who defended the slaves. Additional nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Original Score and Best Costume Design. Rated R.
“CHINA BEACH”: THE COMPLETE SEASON THREE (Time Life/Star Vista Entertainment): A six-DVD collection ($29.95 retail) of all 22 episodes from the 1989-’90 season of the critically acclaimed ABC series about those who served in the Vietnam War, created by William Broyles Jr. and John Sacret Young. The regular cast includes Dana Delany, Emmy winner Marg Helgenberger (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series), Robert Picardo, Brian Wimmer, Jeff Kober and Ricki Lake, with guest appearances by Don Cheadle, Helen Hunt, Vince Vaughn, Tom Sizemore, Thomas Haden Church, Ruby Dee and Wings Hauser. A second Emmy for Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Drama Series, with additional nominations for Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Delany), Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Dee), Outstanding Editing for a Series and Outstanding Costuming for a Series.
DEATH OCCURRED LAST NIGHT (RaroVideo): Duccio Tessari’s fair 1970 melodrama (originally titled La Morte Risate a Ieri Sera) stars Frank Wolff and Gabriele Tinti as cops seeking widowed businessman Raf Vallone’s mentally retarded daughter, who has been sold into sexual slavery in Milan. Gianni Ferri’s “hip” score provides blaring accompaniment.
“DOLMEN”: THE COMPLETE SERIES (MHz Networks): A three-DVD boxed set ($39.95 retail) of the six-episode 2005 mystery series starring Ingrid Chauvin as a police officer who returns home to marry her childhood sweetheart (Xavier Deluc), only to be drawn into a series of strange deaths and seemingly supernatural phenomena. In French with English subtitles.
“EASTBOUND & DOWN”: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (HBO
Home Entertainment): The misadventures of self-deluded, has-been baseball pitcher Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) continues in all eight episodes from the 2013 (and final) season of the popular HBO comedy series, which boasts a contingent of UNCSA School of Filmmaking grads in the credits, including creators McBride, Ben Best and Jody Hill, and producer/director David Gordon Green. The DVD boxed set retails for $29.98, the Blu-ray boxed set for $39.98.
I WILL FOLLOW YOU INTO THE DARK (Epic Releasing): Grief-stricken
Mischa Barton encounters spooky doings when her lover (Ryan Eggold) inexplicably vanishes in this stilted and excruciatingly overlong chiller.
LABOR DAY (Paramount): Jason Reitman’s mawkish, misfired adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s best-seller is set during the title holiday weekend, as lonely divorcee Kate Winslet and her impressionable son Gattlin Griffith encounter escaped convict Josh Brolin, who holes up in their house and winds up a surrogate husband and father-figure. Sincere performances only go so far. In this case, not far enough. Rated PG-13.
“ROGUE”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Entertainment One): Thandie Newton leads a double life as an undercover cop trying to balance motherhood with her surreptitious duties for ruthless crime boss Martin Csokas in all 10 episodes from the inaugural 2013 season of the DirecTV original crime series. The four-DVD collection retails for $34.98.
“ROOKIE BLUE”: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (Entertainment One): The young officers of 15 Division continue to lay down the law in all 13 episodes from the 2013 season of the popular prime-time crime series broadcast on ABC. The regular cast includes Missy Peregrym, Gregory Smith, Ben Bass, Enuka Okuma and Travis Milne. The four- DVD boxed set retails for $39.98.
SANITARIUM (RLJ Entertainment/ Image Entertainment): This three-part horror anthology, set in the titular enclave (run, appropriately enough, by Malcolm McDowell) refreshingly emphasizes mood over gore, but also proceeds at too slow a pace, which is a hindrance. Bryan Ortiz, Bryan Ramirez and Kerry Valderrama directed the segments, given some kick by the cast: John Glover, Robert Englund, Lacey Chabert, Chris Mulkey and Lou Diamond Phillips.
SCHOOLGIRL REPORT #12 (Impulse Pictures): Yet another in producer Wolf Hartwig’s seemingly endless soft-core series based on Gunther Hunold’s bestseller, this 1978 installment (also known as If Mom Only Knew … and Carnal Campus) offers the usual, sensuous vignettes involving Teutonic temptresses, take it or leave it. In German with English subtitles.
SPECIAL ID (Well Go USA Entertainment): Donnie Yen leads a double life in this R-rated police thriller (originally titled Te shu shen fen), as an undercover cop who has infiltrated the underworld – then finds his loyalties torn when a gang war erupts. In Chinese with English subtitles (or English dub).The DVD retails for $24.98, the Blu-ray for $29.98.
“SPIRAL”: SEASON 3 (MHz Networks): A four-DVD collection ($49.95 retail) of all 12 episodes from the 2010 season of the critically acclaimed French crime series (originally titled Engrenages) that depicts criminal activities from the perspectives of both sides of the law. The regular cast includes Caroline Proust, Philippe Duclos, Gregory Fitoussi and Audrey Fleurot. In French with English subtitles.
SWEETWATER (Arc Entertainment):
Lawman Ed Harris joins forces with widowed ex-prostitute January Jones to seek vengeance against lusty religious fanatic Jason Isaacs in the New Mexico territory of the late 19th-century in this R-rated Western (also known as Sweet Vengeance), available on DVD ($20.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.99 retail).
SWORD OF THE ASSASSIN (Epic Releasing): Huynh Dong plays a martial artist bent on avenging the massacre of his family in feudal Vietnam in this action extravaganza originally titled Thien Menh Anh Hung, also known as Blood Letter. In Vietnamese with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $14.99, the Blu-ray for $19.99. !
MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2013, Mark Burger.