Television viewer seeing this for the first time: Gee whiz, it's in black-and-white and was made in the 40's and is about crime and...Eureka!...another "noir" film is discovered. How about ... See full summary »
Television viewer seeing this for the first time: Gee whiz, it's in black-and-white and was made in the 40's and is about crime and...Eureka!...another "noir" film is discovered. How about just another typical Martin Mooney film that starts out as pretending to be something socially significant---call Prison Warden Lewis E. Lawes to do another prologue speech---and then quickly gets into just another cops-vs-robbers (or good crooks vs. bad crooks)B-feature action-thriller that will open in every 2nd-tier theatre in the country on Sunday, close on Wednesday... and be the bottom-half of a grind-house twin-bill two weeks later. "San Quentin" ably fills that description. Ex-con Jim Rowland (Lawrence Tierney), gone straight and returning from WWII as a hero, is more than a bit irked, as one of the founders of the Prison Welfare League (cons rehabilitating cons inside and outside the walls), when he learns that bank robber Nick Taylor (Barton MacLane) has used the good name of the PWL to ... Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Noir not really a prison picture, but noteworthy for Tierney and Burr
Curiously, San Quentin is not really a Big House movie, since most of it takes place outside prison walls. But the plot is rooted in an earnest concern for the humane rehabilitation of inmates that calls to mind Eleanor Roosevelt. It has the markings of a message movie, but luckily the message, for the most part, gets lost in the action.
San Quentin's warden, eager to generate favorable publicity for his inmates' welfare league (through which prisoners police one another to discourage recidivism), accepts an invitation to a press conference in San Francisco and brings along (he thinks) two of his successes. But he gambled wrong on Barton MacLane, who engineers a car-hijacking en route and leaves the warden for dead.
Set a thief to catch a thief, the old saying goes. Authorities contact Lawrence Tierney, an ex-con who, after discharge, served honorably in the War, to hunt down his old nemesis MacLane. With sidekick Joe Devil, he starts off in pursuit, handicapped by the strictures his status as parolee impose on him. The movie thus comes down to a cat-and-mouse game, with not much more elaboration than a romantic angle (in the person of Betty Richards) to sweeten up the plot.
San Quentin marks Raymond Burr's first appearance in film noir, of which he would become such an irreplaceable fixture. Over the course of the cycle, his weight shot up and down as capriciously as post-war hemlines. On the portly side of average, he would balloon over the next few years, then slim down before his defection to television as Perry Mason. The part he plays here as a freeside crony of MacLane's isn't especially distinctive; his menace would grow with his girth.
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