Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)


“I promise you no harm will come to you during this conversation. Guard! These are my instructions. Dunn is to be allowed to come into this yard and return to 11 without interference.” – Warden Reynolds

Number of Times Seen – 1 (20 Aug 2019)

Brief Synopsis – A group of prisoners start a riot and take hostages in order to try and get the warden and the state to improve conditions in the prison.

My Take on it – This is a really interesting plot for a film especially since it was motivated by trying to affect change in the real prison system by showing how poor the conditions were for prisoners at the time.

We get to see the harsh punishments given by the guards along with the lack of various privileges that should be afforded these prisoners.

This film works as a social commentary on the prisons of the 1950’s and it is able to bring the forefront these various issues.

Unfortunately, the story itself isn’t presented in such a smooth way and the characters and situations are a bit too bland and fail to keep things interesting.

The one standout among the cast is Emile Meyer as the sympathetic warden who does all he can to try and end the riot as peacefully as possible.

This film did manage to find a way to affect change in the prison system and from that perspective it was successful even if the story itself comes across as being a bit too tame by today’s standards.

Bottom Line – Interesting film that tries to bring to light the various problems in prisons at the time. As a social commentary, the film works because it allows us to see the harsh conditions that the prisoners needed to deal with. On the other hand, the characters and story are not as interesting to watch as the plot unfolds. The standout among the cast is Meyer as the warden who is quite sympathetic to the cause yet still does all he can to end things peacefully. This film did manage to find a way to affect the social issues it brings about and from that perspective it was quite effective in making people realize what kind of conditions prison were offering inmates at the time.

MovieRob’s Favorite Trivia – Producer Walter Wanger served a four-month prison term for shooting agent Jennings Lang, whom he suspected of having an affair with his wife Joan Bennett. The experiences he had in prison so unnerved him that upon his release he resolved to make a film about what prison was “really” like, not the typical Hollywood prison film made by people who had never been anywhere near a prison or who had never had any experience with the justice system. He shot the film at California’s Folsom State Prison and used both guards and inmates as extras and technical advisers. Wanger’s cast and crew also differed from the Hollywood “norm”; among them were actor Neville Brand, decorated Army veteran of WW II who earned a Silver Star in the Allied European campaign; actor Leo Gordon, another combat veteran, who had served five years in San Quentin State Prison for armed robbery; and then-production assistant Sam Peckinpah, whose father, Denver Peckinpah, was a widely known and respected law-and-order judge in northern California (and whose name alone was enough to get the warden to allow the film to be shot in Folsom State Prison). (From IMDB)

Rating – BAFTA Worthy (6/10)

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