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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Underrated Prison Drama, 15 Nov 2011
By 
Mrs. Marilyn A. Rice "RR" (sussex) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Two years before director Donald Siegal made the classic sci fi horror "Invasion of the body snatchers" he made this very impressive prison drama, which was actually filmed in Folsom prison, California. The underrated Neville Brand does a great performance as a tough prisoner, who creates a riot in the prison, which a few prison guards are taken hostage. But sympathetic warden Emile Mayor has to try and stop the mess, before anybody gets hurt. This is a first class film which was a big hit in it's day and it's different compared to other prison movies because nobody escapes and parts of the film is equivalent to a documentary. Also actor Leo Gordan, who played many heavies in his career stars in a supporting role as a strong crazy prisoner, which he was actually serving prison for robbery a few years before the movie was made, which the prison guards remembered him as a troublemaker. Neville Brand was nominated for a Bafta for his very good lead performance, which I personally think that he should have been nominated for an academy award and I really did have sympathy for his character at the end of the film. The movie is also available on DVD, but it's quite expensive and usually TCM have the film on now and then. But if you have a VCR, it's probably best to buy it on VHS, because they are cheap and if you haven't seen the movie, it's well worth buying and I would give it 8/10.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don Siegel's Potent Prison Piece., 6 Mar 2011
By 
Spike Owen "John Rouse Merriott Chard" (Birmingham, England.) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
The occupants of Cell Block 11 take guards as prisoners to protest at the brutal conditions in their prison. The problems are many, be it overcrowding, awful food, the mixing of psychopaths with safe category prisoners, or the treatment dished out by sadistic guards. The inmates have had enough. So led by James V. Dunn (Neville Brand), the cons draw up a list of changes they want to see enforced, changes that liberal minded Warden Reynolds (Emile Meyer) actually concurs with. But as the clock ticks down the cons are beset with in fighting, while on the outside the press and politics start to take a hold.

Tho what is known as a "B" movie, and with a budget to match such a programmer, Riot In Cell Block 11 remains today one of the finest entries in the incarceration based genre of film. As relevant today as it was back then, the film has much grit and realism coursing thru its veins. Directed by Don Siegel (Dirty Harry/Escape From Alcatraz), it's written by Richard Collins (uncredited on Invasion Of The Body Snatchers), but it's with producer Walter Wanger that the core of the piece belongs. In 1951 Wanger was convicted of the attempted murder of Jennings Lang. Lang was having an affair with Wanger's wife, and when Wanger caught them in the act, he shot Lang in the groin. Wanger, after copping a plea of temporary insanity, served four months in San Quentin Prison, where his experiences there provided the genesis for Riot in Cell Block 11.

Shot in a semi-documentary style on location at California's Folsom Prison, Siegel and Wanger used actual inmates and guards to authenticate their movie. This was made possible by a certain Sam Peckinpah, who here was doing his first film work as a third assistant director. Legend has it that the Warden of Folsom knew "Bloody Sam's" family and thus allowed the makers into the prison to film. The film also benefits by not having big name stars filling out the cast, Brand & Meyer are joined by Frank Faylen, Leo Gordon, Robert Osterloh, Paul Frees & Whit Bissell. Solid performers to a man, but no headliners, and this helps, as they mix with the real crims and coppers, the realistic feel the makers created.

Siegel's movie isn't looking for simple answers to a persistent problem, it could have easily just gone for a death or glory violent piece of entertainment. But instead it's laced with intelligence and never sinks to preaching, in fact its finale is a rather sombre footnote to the whole episode. The characters are excellently drawn too, it's good to see that Collins and co don't just make this a cons against authority piece, they clash with each other. Thus hitting home that not all the cons are singing off the same page. As Warden Reynolds tells when asked about riot leader Dunn, "he's a psychopath, but he's an intelligent psychopath-just like many others on the outside" it's a telling piece of writing. As is the fact that there's no soft soaping either, there's no redemptive love interests or old sage lags to talk common sense into the ring leaders, it's tough uncompromising stuff. And while we are noting the need for reform, feeling a bond with the prisoners complaints, we are then jolted to not forget that evil men do still reside here. Evil that is perfectly essayed by an excellent Leo Gordon (a real life San Quentin resident) as Crazy Mike Carnie. Watch out for one scene involving a call to a guards wife, the impact is like taking a blow from a claw hammer. You will understand why Siegel said Gordon was the scariest man he ever met.

A top draw movie that doesn't take sides, it has both sides of the fence firmly in its sights. With us the public observing from the middle. 9/10
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4.0 out of 5 stars A cult movie of the 50s, 27 Jan 2010
By 
The B-movie system, grinding out the weekly supporting feature for forty years, provided the training ground for many a director who later became one of the greats (Kubrick springs to mind). Some like Samuel Fuller or Roger Corman remained B-movie directors, content with turning out taut and evocative 70-minute gems and revelling in the challenges of low or no budgets.

Don Siegel used his B-movie years as a training in economy of all kinds - script, setting, filming - but managed to turn out a couple of great movies before moving on into the major league. One of these is "Riot", which within its 70 minutes both ratchets up the tension and gives the issue "What is prison for?" a good airing. It was filmed at Folsom prison, and used real prisoners and warders to play themselves, giving an authentic documentary feeling to the proceedings.

The film carefully - too carefully, some would say - lays out the positions for and against liberal policing - reform vs punishment, and portrays warden, governor and prisoners all as essentially good people at the mercy of a system which starves them of resources and is at the mercy of politicians only interested in re-election and short-termism.

If this makes the film sound worthy but dull, it's anything but. The escalating riot spreading from Block 11 to 4, 5 etc, the deposing of the moderate leaders by more dangerous violence junkies, the state governor anxious to teach a lesson, the shooting, the tear gas, all have a grim dramatic logic which is utterly convincing. And when Dunn the moderate (Neville Brand) is shafted by the powers that be at the end, we can only nod in acknowledgement that the world is unjust for those at the bottom of the heap, and feel a sense of outrage.

This movie turns up quite often on late-night TV, but I would say it is a minor cult classic, and good enough to own. If you can find it. It's something of a mystery why it's not currently available.
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