This is the story of David Marshall 'Marsh' Williams, the real life inventor of the world famous M-1 Carbine automatic rifle used in WWII. It all started when Marsh, who was one to do things his way, was caught distilling moonshine, and was accused and convicted of shooting a federal officer in the process. This at first placed him in the chain gang which labeled him as a hard case. Later, to make room for those more deserving, he was moved to a prison farm, where he came under the direction of Captain H.T. Peoples. The Captain was a mild mannered warden, who did not shy from discipline when necessary, but also believed that given the opportunity, most men will respond to good. Believing that Marsh was just such a person, the Captain gave him every opportunity to reform, so much so, that he eventually allowed Marsh to work in the tool shop on his spare time to develop and build by hand, a working rifle, inside the prison farm itself. Written by
Bill Walch <TheWalchs@aol.com>
In the film, all of the men working on the still with Williams were white. But in reality, it was five African-American men, all of whom testified against Williams at trial. See more »
At the end of the film - Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer gratefully acknowledges the cooperation of the North Carolina prison authorities and wishes to state that the penal system existing in North Carolina today has been improved immeasurably over conditions depicted in this picture. See more »
Ten years before Burt Lancaster came out with the acclaimed Birdman of Alcatraz, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced this neglected gem of a film starring a dark and brooding James Stewart as David Marshall Williams who invented the M-1 carbine rifle while in prison.
Before writing this review I took a look at the wikipedia article on Marsh Williams and found that MGM had stuck pretty close to telling the real story about Williams. For the farmer the Great Depression began after the Armistice was signed and the food they produced was no longer needed to feed troops. Many like Marsh Williams turned to making moonshine, not just as a way of distilling spirits for personal use, but for economic survival. That fact cannot be emphasized enough in telling the Carbine Williams story.
The federal men were seen as taking the bread out of the farmer's mouths in the North Carolina hills and other such places and the rural folk reacted accordingly. Williams was convicted of murdering a federal agent during a raid. He didn't get the death penalty because no one could tell who really fired the fatal shot, but as he was part of the group he shared responsibility. He got thirty years.
Williams was a skilled machinist and after he got over the bitterness of his incarceration with the help of a friendly warden he worked out the design of the weapon that later became the M-1 carbine rifle used by our armed forces in World War II.
James Stewart in developing his character as Marsh Williams borrowed a whole lot from some of the characters in his Anthony Mann westerns. This is not the 'aw shucks' Jimmy we all identify him with, but a very bitter man, as bitter even as George Bailey when he thinks the world's deserted him in It's A Wonderful Life.
Jean Hagen plays the Donna Reed like wife here who with a man incarcerated has a lot more troubles than Ms. Reed dealt with. The third major role is that of Wendell Corey's warden whose belief in Stewart is sustained.
Carbine Williams tread earlier along the same lines that Birdman of Alcatraz did. And in depicting the moonshining community, Carbine Williams shows folks that could have been the ancestors of the family Robert Mitchum was part of in Thunder Road. It's a good story about a man who found his soul and his work in the oddest of places.
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