A sleeper that evidently few have seen recently, this unpretentious comedy-drama can take an honorable mention in the long list of prison films. An early Stanley Kramer production, it received critical acclaim but was not a box-office success. Nevertheless, it has good character acting, some very amusing scenes, and enough dramatic tension to hold the attention and set off the comic moments.
Don't be put off by the overly earnest opening, as the new, wet-behind-the-ears psychiatrist arrives at the prison hoping to reform the penitentiary system single-handed. Although Kramer reportedly had prison reform in mind in making the film, this movie is not about psychological theories, which are lightly passed over with buzz-word gobbledygook. It's not even about the good doctor himself or his research so much as it's about the six cons of the title, as they become human beings to us.
Speaking of buzz-words, the genial Connie's psycho-babble malapropisms are among the best of the running gags. The many funny scenes stand out against the grim realism of the penitentiary, shot on location at San Quentin. The comedy also contrasts sharply with the dramatic dilemma the "doc" must face between gaining (and keeping) the confidence of his six cons and learning too much to be healthy in the deadly reality of prison life. But overall this is a human comedy more than an edge-of-your seat drama.
There are excellent photographic moments using long wide-angle shots to dramatize the starkness of the prison environment, which contrast well with the friendly intimacy gradually established in the psychiatrist's office. And the movie gets an extra star for the fine score by Dimitri Tiomkin, famous for many much better-known movies from "It's a Wonderful Life" to "The Guns of Navarone".
It's well worth watching for this to come around on television, as you are unlikely to find it at your corner video store -- not available on DVD or VHS at the time of writing.
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