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Producer Walter Wanger, who had just been released from a prison term after shooting a man he believed was having an affair with his wife, wanted to make a film about the appalling conditions he saw while he was incarcerated. He got together with director Don Siegel and they came up with this film, in which several prison inmates, to protest brutal guards, substandard food, overcrowding and barely livable conditions, stage an uprising, in which most of the inmates join, and take several guards hostage. Negotiations between the inmates and prison officials are stymied, however, by politicians interfering with the prison administration, and by dissension and infighting in the inmates' own ranks. Written by
A gritty and solid drama despite being a bit stagy and clunky at times
It is a normal night in block 11 of the city jail. One prisoner calls a guard over to his cell for assistance but knocks him to the ground and grabs his keys. With the rest of the prisoners released one by one and the handful of block guards captured, ringleader Dunn demands the warden gets the press to the block. The plan is to expose the conditions and overcrowding that they live in, however negotiations between prisoners and the prison officials are slowed by the involvement of politicians as, in block 11, tensions build between the inmates.
Based on the experiences of producer Walt Wanger it is no surprise that the strength of this film is its documentary-feel. It is gritty and does feel pretty realistic and for the most part this does carry the film along well and make for a solid drama. At times it is far too stagy and has some dialogue scenes that scream "message" as they make the points in very obvious ways. The drama unfolds well though, despite the occasionally clunky script, and the interplay between those at the coalface and those in political power is convincing, as is the range of attitudes within the group of convicts themselves.
The acting isn't up to much, which is perhaps part of this being a low budget b-movie and they do struggle with the rather unnatural dialogue given to them at times. That said though, Brand does well as Dunn while Meyer's warden is solid if a little stiff. Faylen's politician is a bit too one dimensional to be of intelligent use but he serves his purpose. The support cast are mostly good wallpaper with turns from Gordon, Osterloh and others. Siegel directs with an eye for realism and grit, responsible for the film having an edge of realism.
Overall then, a solid drama with a gritty documentary feel. It is a bit stagy and has unnatural dialogue at times but mostly it is good enough to cover these weaknesses.
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