New Noir News Drive a Crooked Road (1954): Dreams on Malibu

DriveACrookedRoad Drive a Crooked Road (1954): Dreams on Malibu

And everybody knows that you’re in trouble
Everybody knows what you’ve been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it’s coming apart
Take one last look at this Sacred Heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows

- Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows

Mickey Rooney plays a withdrawn car mechanic and amateur racing driver who is seduced, and then conned into driving the souped-up getaway car in a bank robbery. Drive a Crooked Road takes its time in getting to the business, about as long as the femme-fatale takes to bring the shy loner out of his shell. He falls for her – and big time.

The actual heist is an anti-climax and really only sets the scene for the anti-hero’s destruction. The dame gets a conscience and so the carefully laid plans of the villains fall apart. By the time Rooney acts out the closing scene, two hoods are dead, and Rooney is standing over the prostate femme by moonlight on the sands of Malibu, a smoking revolver in one hand, and the other stroking her hair.

A bleak scenario that has a hard and cynical edge, is rendered competently by a Columbia Pictures team. Not surprisingly Blake Edwards had a hand in the script with the assistance of director Richard Quine. Rooney is low key and carefully resists melodrama in a sympathetic portrayal. Minor 50s actress Dianne Foster is leggy, sultry, sweet, and repentant, by turn. A final descent into histrionics weakens the portrayal though.

The dénouement plays out in the shadow of a beach house on Malibu and harkens forward to the nuclear apocalypse that ended Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly the following year. Here the devastation is totally personal. The crushing of a less than average joe is brutal and undeserved. Fate and good ol’ American greed in cahoots take a man’s dreams and loneliness and twist them into a lose-lose no exit dilemma.

The hoods are distinctly middle-class. Dinner parties at the beach house and the conniving host cooking up a storm in the kitchen. It’s only a business proposition you see. Forget that a wise-cracking loathsome henchman mans the bar.


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New from Movie Morlocks: Raw Deal

If there’s one subset of movies that not only doesn’t require a big budget and big stars but actually benefits from lower budgets and lesser known stars, it’s film noir. It doesn’t mean you can’t have great noirs of the big budget variety, and we have, from The Maltese Falcon to Out of the Past and dozens in between, before, and after. It just means that sometimes noir can function exceedingly well when done on the cheap. One of the best noirs of the forties is Anthony Mann’s Raw Deal. In the best decade ever for noir, it stands out even among the greats. That it didn’t get the recognition it deserved at the time now feels like Anthony Mann’s other raw deal.

All noirs take place in another world. They take place in a world filled with shadows, broken dreams, dangerous men, and even more dangerous women. The great thing about noir is that the best of them feel like horror movies as much as crime movies. Raw Deal is no different. Its opening shots, of Joe Sullivan (Dennis O’Keefe), in the visiting room at the prison, talking with social worker, Ann (Marsha Hunt), the music strikes an eerie tone, a minor organ note, held as it wavers, like the kind one hears in a horror movie when the hero is lost in the woods and danger approaches. The lighting of the scene is ghost-like, muted light and soft focus, and the angle of the shot, a forced perspective as we look down the table behind Joe and Ann, is ominous. It’s a great opening and sets the feel for the movie, a feeling of being trapped that the isolated visiting room conveys perfectly.

Here’s the setup: Joe’s in prison because he took the fall for Rick Coyle (Raymond Burr) and Ann, the social worker, visits him regularly in an attempt to rehabilitate him. Pat (Claire Trevor) is Joe’s girl and comes to him with a plan setup by Rick to break Joe out of jail. Only Rick doesn’t actually want Joe out. As he reveals to his right hand man, Fantail (John Ireland), he’s expecting Joe to get killed in the jailbreak, at which point he won’t have to worry about Joe finding out he double-crossed him. He’s even greased some of the guards at the prison to make sure Joe doesn’t make it. Problem is, Joe makes it. Pat drives the getaway car but only gets as far as the suburbs because the gas tank got hit with bullets from the break and all the gas has leaked out. That’s when Joe gets the idea to kidnap Ann and her car to head out of town, on their way to meet up with Rick. This puts the three of them together in one of the great noir triangles, where the femme fatale may be Pat or Ann, or both. The film builds to a climax as taut as any thriller you’re likely to see with a few twists of plot along the way and a moral choice by Pat that’s framed as beautifully as anything I’ve ever seen.

Anthony Mann gained a reputation for lean, muscular filmmaking, a reputation he built quickly in the forties. What does that mean exactly? Well, in Raw Deal, it means he took characters not fleshed out by monologues and dialogue, with only hints of backstory, and working with extraordinary cinematographer John Alton, crafted characters out of light and shadow, and story out of cuts and cues. While the Pat character narrates the movie, sometimes in the present (“we’re driving to the coast…”), sometimes in the past (“I felt a little confused…”), she reveals little about anything. Her narration is just another way to set the mood rather than tell the story. With Mann, action is the story.

This comes into play in a remarkable fight in a taxidermy shop about two thirds of the way through the movie. The nets that cast shadows over the room, the animal silhouettes in the corners, the sounds of anger and pain as the three men fight and one of the women looking on, deciding whether to use that gun or not, is a masterpiece of story advancement. Things happen in this scene without words that take the plot, the characters and what they represent in entirely different directions.

John Alton lights the movie as well as any noir out there. Raw Deal contains shots that feel like they could have come from an Orson Welles film and, in fact, film historian David Meyer favorably compared the movie’s look to Citizen Kane. Remarkably, Bosley Crowther gave the film a negative notice upon its release and other critics followed with mixed feelings. I’m not one to routinely dismiss Bosley Crowther, even as he is something of an easy target for modern cinephiles, a white elephant’s patron, if you will, because I actually think he, like almost every other critic in history, had great moments of insight as well as numerous occasions of movie blindness. This would be one of them. How Crowther could not see in the first ten minutes is, quite frankly, beyond my comprehension. Raw Deal looks great and moves along in an uneasy advancement towards a doomed finale, the kind of doomed finale you know must come with any great noir. It must be lamented that any noir this good, while lacking the kind of reputation afforded other noirs of far lesser quality, got a deal perfectly evoked by its very title. A raw deal, indeed.

New Noir News The Oscars, Jean Renoir, Raymond Chandler, Auteurism, and Budd Boetticher’s The Killer is Loose (1956)

The Killer Is Loose 1956 The Oscars, Jean Renoir, Raymond Chandler, Auteurism, and Budd Boetticher’s The Killer is Loose (1956)

In a 1954­ interview Jean Renoir said of Hollywood: “Don’t go thinking that I despise “B” pictures; in general I like them better than big, pretentious psychological films they’re much more fun. When I happen to go to the movies in America, I go see ‘B’ pictures. First of all, they are an expression of the great technical quality of Hollywood. Because, to make a good western in a week, the way they do at Monogram, starting Monday and finishing Saturday, believe me, that requires extraordinary technical ability; and detective stories are done with the same speed. I also think that “B” pictures are often better than important films because they are made so fast that the filmmaker obviously has total freedom; they don’t have time to watch over him.”

Raymond Chandler in 1948 in an acid essay on the Oscars, and 20 years before Pauline Kael wrote ‘Trash, Art, and the Movies’, framed his critique by saying of the motion picture “that its transitions can be more eloquent than its high-lit scenes, and that its dissolves and camera movements, which cannot be censored, are often far more emotionally effective than its plots, which can.”  Though he didn’t spell it out it, Chandler was clearly highlighting the artistic choices made by the director of a film.

Not until the 1950s did the enfants terribles of Le Cahiers du Cinema develop the insights broached by Chandler. American film academic and writer Justus Nieland in a piece foreshadowing tonight’s Oscars titled ‘Auteurism and the Genius of the Market’ and published last week in The New York Times, writes:

“This logic of aesthetic judgment, in which films and their directors mutually ratify each other’s greatness has, of course, auteurist roots. The word persists today because a group of film critics in the 1950s hashed out a “politique des auteurs” that discerned, among the industrial products of American mass culture, signatures of a presiding, singular artist like Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Fritz Lang or Nicholas Ray, among others. This Romantic view of expression, with its abiding myths of freedom, style and personality, sought to solve the problem of how industrially produced and distributed mass entertainment might also be art. But auteurism was also a category of reception, allowing cinephiles to sift and sort, and value and hierarchize, the films and directors to which they had access. In France and elsewhere in the 1950s, that meant seeing Hollywood cinema as a cultural sign of the economic and political power of the U.S… If the Oscars are important, then the best director award is the most important not just because it rewards the work of gifted nominees (and this year’s are an estimable bunch), but because the name of the director remains, for better and worse, contemporary film culture’s way of organizing knowledge about film artistry and its relation to markets and consumers. This says as much about what persists in our fantasies of aesthetic agency as it does about the strategies of the corporate present that shape, and limit, our power to discern the best.”

Hollywood ‘B’ movies of the 40s and 50s were production line ‘filler’. But for the reasons identified by Renoir and Chandler, and despite being made quickly and on the cheap, they sometimes transcended their humble aims and by virtue of the craft and artistry (of mostly journeymen film-makers) made a claim to being considered as art.

One such ‘B’ movie is The Killer is Loose made in 1956 by United Artists and directed by Budd Boetticher, who after completing this film went on to make six cult Westerns that established his auteur status.

The Killer is Loose is not a great movie nor is it even particularly good. The plot is by this late stage of the classic noir cycle more of the same police procedural that noir largely devolved into as the War years receded.  A gormless war veteran working as a bank teller provides inside information for a heist, and when he is cornered by police in his apartment and his innocent wife is accidently shot dead by a police detective in the shootout that ensues, swears vengeance on the wife of the cop. After a couple of years he escapes from detention and heads onto a bloody path to the cop’s wife.  The climax is a stakeout at night in suburbia.

Strong performances from Wendell Corey as the disturbed killer and Joseph Cotton as the cop, and Rhonda Fleming as the hapless wife, don’t quite overcome the inertia of the scenario and plot-holes that most likely derive from keeping the running time to 73 minutes. The score is dramatic in the wrong places, better dialog is not hard to find, and the ending is predictable but what unshackles the movie is the consummate direction and editing. Strong depth of field outside and long fluid takes inside.  The climax is a master-class in editing for suspense. Even daylight scenes have a tension that subverts otherwise normal life in the suburbs. A journey on a crowded brightly bus at night holds a palpable existential terror.

In November last year The New Yorker film critic Rich Brody named the recent archive release of the The Killer is Loose as his DVD of the Week, writing that “Boetticher… saw violence everywhere and was sensitive to its ambient horrors, even when unleashed with principle. This movie, with its focus on crime and punishment—and on the private lives of police officers and criminals alike—redefines the very idea of the war at home.”

Brody’s video review of The Killer is Loose is featured below.


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New Noir News FilmsNoir.Net’s Top 25 Films Noir

My top 25 films noir by year of release. Ranking them would be arbitrary as there is little if anything between them.  For my full listing of essential films noir click here.

port of shadows FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir Port of Shadows 1938 France Aka Le Quai des brumes. Fate a dank existential fog ensnares doomed lovers Jean Gabin and Michèle Morgan after one night of happiness.
the maltese falcon FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir The Maltese Falcon 1941 US Bogart as Sam Spade the quintessential noir protagonist. A loner on the edge of polite society, sorely tempted to transgress but declines and is neither saved nor redeemed.
double indemnity FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir Double Indemnity 1944 US All the elements of the archetypal film noir  are distilled into a gothic LA tale of greed, sex, and betrayal.
murder my sweet FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir Murder, My Sweet 1944 US (Aka Farewell, my Lovely) The most noir fun you will ever have. Raymond Chandler’s prose crackles with moody noir direction from Edward Dmytryk.
the big sleep FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir The Big Sleep 1946 US Love’s Vengeance Lost. Darker than Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet. Bogart is tougher, more driven, and morally suspect.
ride the pink horse FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir Ride the Pink Horse 1946 US Disillusioned WW2 vet arrives in a New Mexico town to blackmail a war racketeer. Imbued with a rare humanity.
body and soul FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir Body and Soul 1947 US A masterwork. Melodramatic expose of the fight game and a savage indictment of money capitalism. Garfield’s picture.
out of the past FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir Out of the Past 1947 US Quintessential film noir. Inspired direction, exquisite expressionist cinematography, and legendary Mitchum and Greer.
the lady from shanghai FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir The Lady From Shanghai 1947 US Orson Welles’ brilliant jigsaw noir with a femme-fatale to die for and a script so sharp you relish every scene.
t men FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir T-Men 1947 US Mann and Alton offer a visionary descent into a noir realm of dark tenements, nightclubs, mobsters, and hellish steam baths.
act of violence FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir Act of Violence 1948 US Long-shot and deep focus climax filmed night-for-night on a railway platform: the stuff noirs are made of.
foce of evil FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir Force of Evil 1948 US Polonsky transcends noir in a tragic allegory on greed and family. Garfield adds signature honesty and gritty complexity .
raw deal FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir Raw Deal 1948 US Sublime noir from Anthony Mann and John Alton. Knockout cast in a strong story stunningly rendered as expressionist art.
the set up FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir The Set-Up 1949 US Robert Ryan is great as washed-up boxer in Robert Wise’ sharp expose of the fight game. Brooding and intense noir classic.
the third man FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir The Third Man 1949 UK Sublime. An engaging cavalcade of characters in a human comedy of love, friendship, and the imperatives of conscience.
night and the city FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir Night And the City 1950 US/UK Dassin’s stark existential journey played out in the dark dives of post-war London as a quintessential noir city.
the asphalt jungle FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir The Asphalt Jungle 1950 US Quintessential heist movie transcends melodrama and noir. A police siren wails: “Sounds like a soul in hell.”
on dangerous ground FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir On Dangerous Ground 1951 US City cop battling inner demons is sent to ‘Siberia’. A film of dark beauty and haunting characterisations.
the prowler FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir The Prowler 1951 US Van Heflin is homme-fatale in Tumbo thriller. Director Losey is unforgiving. Each squalid act is suffocatingly framed.
the big heat FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir The Big Heat 1953 US Gloria Grahame as existential hero in Fritz Lang’s brooding socio-realist noir critique.
kiss me deadly FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir Kiss Me Deadly 1955 US Anti-fascist Hollywood Dada. Aldrich’s surreal noir a totally weird yet compelling exploration of urban paranoia.
rififi FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir Rififi 1955 France Dassin’s classic heist thriller culminating in the terrific final scenes of a car desperately careening through Paris streets.
the big combo FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir The Big Combo 1955 US “I live in a maze… a strange blind backward maze’. Obsessed cop hunts down a psychotic crime boss in the best noir of 50s.
the sweet smell of success FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir Sweet Smell of Success 1957 US DP James Wong Howe’s sharpest picture. As bracing as vinegar and cold as ice. Ambition stripped of all pretense.
odd against tomorrow FilmsNoir.Nets Top 25 Films Noir Odds Against Tomorrow 1959 US A work of art from Rober Wise. New York City and its industrial fringe are quasi-protagonists that harbor the angst and desperation of life outside the mainstream – sordid dreams of the last big heist that will fix everything.


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New Noir News Alan Fassioms on Dementia (1955): Beatnik Noir?

dementia 1955 1 Alan Fassioms on Dementia (1955): Beatnik Noir?

Dementia (1955 aka Daughter of Horror 57min)
Director/Writer – John Parker
Cinematography – William C. Thompson
Music – George Antheil

I’m sure the 50’s hep-cats and ‘seasoned’ film-noir enthusiasts among you will already know of this film. Nevertheless for a greenhorn like myself, I find it damn near impossible to simply watch something like Dementia and not say a few words about it; even if it is just to confirm, through the reader’s feedback, whether or not I’m clueless as to what defines art, missing the point all together, or that I’m simply a weirdo!

Dementia (or as it was later changed to: Daughter of Horror) is a very stylish and strange short film (ca. 57 mins) from deep within the archives of the 50’s avant-garde b-movies. In fact, most movie-buffs may know it more as the film being watched in the cinema, during that famous scene in the 50’s cult-classic, The Blob, rather than a movie of any cinematic significance. In fact, it’s believed that it was Jack H. Harris, producer of The Blob, who eventually bought the film from Parker and added the narration, renaming the movie Daughter Of Horror. This would make complete sense as Harris could then feature it in The Blob without hindrance. And the added narration, which can be heard in the background during The Blob’s famous cinema scene, serves well to intensify the suspense as The Blob approaches the screaming kids. Even the name ‘Daughter of Horror’ seems like it was added with The Blob in mind, as a poster for ‘Daughter of Horror’, and not ‘Dementia’, can also be seen for a split second during that scene.

dementia 1955 2 Alan Fassioms on Dementia (1955): Beatnik Noir?

This mostly ‘silent’, black and white film opens with a high-angle, night-time shot of a neon-lit street, when, after being invited by the narrator to come with him, ”into the tormented, haunted, half-lit night of the insane”, we are drawn slowly through an open window into a young lady’s bedroom, á la Orson Welles. On the bed lies the sleeping beauty squirming and clutching her bed-sheet tightly. Is she having a nightmare… or an erotic dream? Of this the audience is kept guessing, and from here on in, the tone is set for a private view into the young lady’s twisted and perverse psyche. After wakening from her dream-state, she takes a flick-knife from the drawer and ventures out onto the streets, where she encounters all forms of low-lives, debauchery and sexual depravity, all tied together by hallucination sequences that even have the viewer questioning ‘what is reality/ what is fantasy?’.

Although the film has strong ‘noirish’ elements (lighting, street scenes, atmosphere etc), it’s intrinsically expressionist in nature. Very reminiscent of works by German expressionist film-maker, Robert Wiene (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari). Though I’m sure French Impressionist aficionados will argue with this. And they would have every right to, as the film (whether intentional or not) also pays homage to the early, experimental works of the great Luis Buñuel. Either way, this will put into context for you, that this isn’t your average Sunday-afternoon matinee, but rather a performance art concept masqueraded as a film-noir. It also fits into the horror bracket. Although as a horror it struggles to hit its mark. Throw in some very jazzy underground scenes featuring the legendary West Coast jazz ensemble, Shorty Rogers and His Giants, (which along with the narrators voice and a some sound effects are the only sounds you hear, as the film has no spoken dialogue from the actors whatsoever) and you have yourselves a compelling and ambitious ‘Art-Noir’ film (eventually favouring this term over ‘Beatnik-Noir’!) that needs to be seen to be appreciated.

For those brave enough to give Dementia a chance, and once you get over the initial feeling that your watching an Ed Wood movie, you’ll be pleasantly surprised as to how skilfully director John Parker manages to pull off a project which, on paper, you’d swear was doomed from the start. Personally, I loved Dementia. But like I said at the beginning of this review, maybe I’m just a weirdo!

Alan Fassioms writes on film noir, expressionist cinema, and obscure silent films at his web site Dodgy Revolver, and you can follow him on Twitter.

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New Noir News Kickstart a New Film Noir Short: The Man In The Chair

maninthechair Kickstart a New Film Noir Short: The Man In The Chair

British film-maker David Beazley is seeking financing for a new film noir short, The Man In The Chair, a dark comedy about an out of work lawyer who lands a client – one problem though – the client is a dead man.

Beazley’s work has been screened at film festivals, including the London Film Festival, Raindance, Edinburgh, San Francisco, Soho Shorts, Palm Springs & the European Film Festivals, and his documentary short, ‘Gravediggers’, was nominated for Best Short Documentary at the 2013 Sheffield Doc Fest. He has produced and directed commercial & music videos for Red Bull, Robbie William’s Farrell, Brora, Clarks, Tinie Tempah, Bryan Ferry, Above & Beyond, and Metronomy. His film portfolio is featured at

You can check out the project at Kickstart.  Only six days before the funding window closes, so if you have the inclination – and the readies – start clicking. Forty backers have already pledged £2,419 towards the goal of £3,000.


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New post from our friends at Film Noir of the Week: Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)

Coming as a big surprise to me, the forgotten gem Riot in Cell Block 11 is being released by Criterion on DVD soon.

The film is a semi-documentary noir released in the early 1950s. The film documents a fictional riot at the famous California prison, Folsom.

The film has none of the dramatic shadows found in classic noir. It’s shot like a documentary. No showy camera angles. But don’t let the films look — or its lack of stars keep you from seeing it. It’s one of a kind.

Directer Don Siegel was still years away from becoming Eastwood’s mentor and the director of slick 70s and 80s big-budget productions. Some film historians will tell you he made his mark in the 70s while learning his craft in the 40s and 50s. I think they might be wrong. Siegel directed some of the best noir — many of which we’ve showcased here. They were Noir of the Week selections not because of the director, but because the films are just so good. The locked-room mystery The Verdict (1946), Mitchum’s The Big Steal (1949), Count the Hours (1953), Ida Lupino in Private Hell #36 (1956), and Eli Wallach in The Lineup (1958) have all been written about here. All are outstanding. Those titles could put Siegel up there with some of the best noir directors. And I didn’t even mention the still-imitated but never topped sci-fi noir Invasion of the Body Snatchers!

Riot in Cell Block 11 is a story ripped from today’s headlines. It begins like other semi-documentary noirs with newsreel footage over a booming voice. The footage shows prison riots around the country.

The Folsom riot is started after mistreatment of prisoners. The combination of no-name actors and actual prisoners and prison personnel give the film a real feel. And it’s shot on location.

My only criticism of the movie is they downplayed some of the horrors of prison life. The filmmakers do a bit of a soft shoe and doesn’t show any real brutality. It’s certainly not hopeful like Shawshank Redemption, but it’s surprising the film doesn’t get into corruption or some of the real problems facing prisoners back then. Surprising because the producer just spent some real hard time in lockup.

Producer Walter Wagner just got out of jail after serving four months for shooting his wife’s “paramour.” His wife? None other than Joan (The Woman in the Window) Bennett. Wagner was a wildly successful producer but financial woes after starting his own production company and, yeah, shooting a guy end all the good times for a while. When he was released in ’51 he managed to secure a 5-million dollar deal with Allied Artists and made the modest Riot in Cell Block 11.

Like many noirs, sometimes the story behind the film is as interesting as the movie. Not only did Wagner just get out of jail, but one of his stars also did some real hard time. Leo Gordon served a stretch in San Quentin for armed robbery. Legend has it Gordon was strip searched by prison guards every day he showed up for shooting Riot in Cell Block 11. Guards knew his reputation as a prisoner in San Quentin. Siegel called him, “The scariest man he ever met!” He’s the guy in the trailer in a tank top flipping a knife into a guy’s chest.

Leo Gordon threatens Whit Bissell in Riot in Cell Block 11

Western and noir fans will recognize Neville Brand from DOA and countless oaters, Emile Meyer is the prison warden, Frank Faylen — the cabbie in It’s a Wonderful Life — makes an appearance, and timid Whit Bissell — of all people — as the sadistic screw.

But most will recognize none and just enjoy a gritty, brutal film with a bittersweet but highly appropriate ending. Audiences did in the 1950s as this film played in theaters for years after it’s release.

By the way, you may confuse this film with the other Folsom prison movie, 1951′s Inside the Walls of Folsom with Steve Cochran. The earlier film is the first to be filmed in the famous lock up — and Johnny Cash’s inspiration. It’s a Warner Bros. film and has much more of the traditional noir style than Riot in Cell Block 11. It also shows Folsom as a harsher, scarier place. It — not unlike the great Brute Force — shows the prisoners in a much more positive light than the guards and warden. Maybe when it came down to making another movie at Folsom prison officials made it clear that they wanted the production team to tone it down. Even so, Riot in Cell Block 11 is the better of the two films and a worthwhile choice by Criterion.

written by Steve-o

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