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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
Gritty, realistic, semi-documentary style, early film from Don Siegel - two years before 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers'. Essentially a social comment film about the poor conditions in prisons, 'Riot in Cell Block 11' doesn't force its point with cliches and manages to be an effective 'B' Movie.
The storyline starts quickly with a group of prisoners taking their warders hostage and barricading themselves in their cell block. Narrative then follows the proceedings to their conclusion, the action never straying from the prison itself.
Film succeeds mainly as a result of not having any forced characters - none of the prisoners are particularly likable and there are none of the usual dumb characterisations usually found in prison movies. The various authority figures deal with the situation they are presented with in a matter of fact way, and the films stark style remains through to the end.
As I was watching 'Riot in Cell Block 11' I was dreading some wise old sage prisoner coming out of the woodwork, due for parole the following week, who was somehow going to contrive to get himself shot just as the riot was coming to a close, to enjoy a lengthy death scene in someone's arms. Thank goodness nothing like this occurs.
Film made me think of 'Killer's Kiss', in that they are both 1950's low-budget movies with great potential, from a soon-to-be famous director. 'Riot in Cell Block 11' succeeds in all areas, and while its targets may be low it certainly deserves more recognition.
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