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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
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 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 once served a stretch in Folsom 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). See more »
RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11 is an unusual film in that there are no heroes as such, the film is confined to one location, and there are no female characters. It's social significance is timeless, however - prisoners still riot today, ostensibly for the same reasons depicted in this movie: mistreatment, frustration, lack of stimuli - only the techniques used to quell the riots have changed (I don't think any commissioner would attempt to halt a riot these days by threatening the rioting prisoners with the noose!).
The film moves briskly along throughout it's short running time, and follows an intelligent and believable arc; prison guards are taken hostage, the initial riot spreads to other blocks within the prison, the prisoner's initial euphoria at overcoming the guards gradually dissolves as factions and in-fighting develop, and a psychopathic bully attempts to take control. The threat of violence is never far away in this film, and when it flares it is explosive and brutal.
While the acting is sometimes a little overwrought - which I guess is par for the course for a 50's B-movie - Neville Brand gives a convincing performance as the leader of the rioters; a violent pyschopath who has spent most of his adult life in prison, he is probably the closest this movie comes to a (anti-)hero.
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