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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This tightly made television drama dealt with an incident that made
national headlines for a week or so in 1946 and then disappeared
(except for some subsequent trials) from public attention. It was the
closest thing to a large scale escape plan from Alcatraz Prison that
ever occurred, and left most of the prisoners in the lead dead, and
some of the survivors headed for fast trials and executions.
The ringleaders were Bernie Coy and Robert Hubbard (David Carridine and David Morse) two lifers who had committed murder, but were not hardened criminals in the sense of having vicious streaks. Coy and Hubbard were both country boys (in gun battles they killed peace officers, but both escaped the death penalty). They both wanted to return home, and the best bet was a carefully laid out scheme that would enable them to take over one of the largest blocks of the prison, and capture a certain number of police officers for hostage purposes. The weakness of the scheme was that they had to rely on others who were not as reasonable as they were - especially one prisoner, Dutch Cretzer (Howard Hesseman - in an unusual and very good performance as a totally vicious type). Cretzer too had managed to escape a death penalty so far, but was in for life. He happened to have hidden assets outside the prison, and was needed for escape purposes. But for both Coy and Hubbard it was like a deal with the devil. As the Warden Johnston (Richard Dysart) says of Cretzer, "He'd kill his own mother if it would get him out of prison."
Cretzer insisted (really insisted - you didn't question his ideas much for health reasons) that two of his closest pals on the Rock be used too - Sam Shockley (a bad-tempered half wit, played well by Charles Haid) and Buddy Thompson (Jan - Michael Vincent) who was willing to carry out a vicious order if Cretzer gave it. One can see that Coy and Hubbard had their hands full. They also had one young guy in the scheme who was not as bad as the others, a Latino named Dan Durando (Paul Sanchez), who would nearly go to the gas chamber because of his involvement here.
The film shows how the scheme is put into operation - how some of the police are caught off guard, and captured by Coy and Hubbard, who are forced to turn over the guards (at Cretzer's insistence) to Shockley and Thompson, with Durando standing guard. They get about a dozen hostages. Then they contact the Warden with their demands - for a boat to the mainland so they can get to an awaiting fast automobile Cretzer has put at their disposal. Warden Johnston stalls for time to think of how to stop them without risking the lives of the hostages. But Cretzer and the others are now fully armed, and it is difficult. Moreover the design of that impregnable prison is working against the prison authorities here.
Johnston is lucky enough to get some army material from the local military head in the San Francisico area (it was General "Vinigar Joe" Stillwell) in the form of heavy anti-tank weapons (bazookas) and heavy rifles. And a stalemate seems to be developing, which drives Cretzer to greater and greater anger - to the point that he thinks they might as well show they mean business by killing the hostages. He orders Shockley and Thompson to do so, and soon there is a bloodbath in the cells (when Durando won't act, Shockley tells him that if he doesn't he, Shockley, will tell the police it was Durando's idea!). However, Durando discovers that several of the police are badly wounded but alive. He manages to convince Shockley, Thompson, and Cretzer that they were all killed. This enabled several of the wounded to survive - and prevented Durando from sharing the fate of Shockley and Thompson at their trials.
Once Johnston realizes the hostages were shot, he orders a full scale assault on the block that is in revolt. It becomes a battle royal with anti-tank shells piercing the walls. Many prisoners in the block had not joined the fight, and they were endangered. It was here that an unexpected hero showed up - Robert Stroud (Dennis Farina) who got a message to the Warden that he was threatening the lives of innocent men.* Johnston re - concentrated the fire after that on the area where the six were hold up.
*This event actually was shown in another film briefly - in Burt Lancaster's biography of Stroud, THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ, the revolt is shown (Telly Savalas is Cretzer and Lancaster is the man who saved the day).
The film then follows the inevitable collapse and defeat of the revolt, and the death of it's leaders (and the fate of Durando, who years later was released from prison).
It was a very well done prison film, and a poignant one (surprisingly) in the performances of Carridine and Morse, who one wishes had either never planned it or had never had to depend on a monster like Hesseman to get it going. If they show it again try to catch it.
When Alcatraz films are compared, "Six Against the Rock", is rarely even mentioned. That is a real shame, because it compares favorably with better known movies like "Escape From Alcatraz" and "Birdman of Alcatraz". The film is realistic and intense, having been filmed entirely on Alcatraz. The acting is totally acceptable, and except for a few brief talky parts, holds interest throughout. As the escape plan comes undone, and the situation deteriorates, the desperate plight of the escapees becomes crystal clear, and their fate sealed. I liked David Carradine's logic, and David Morse's ferocity. Jan Michael Vincent has a very minor role, as does Dennis Farina. Recommended. - MERK
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I won't add anything special to the two other comments. Yes, this TV
product is a little masterpiece directed by the excellent Paul Wendkos,
a TV vet who had nothing more to prove. But I'd like to say two things
that the other users have not mentioned. First, Paul Krasny already
made a TVM in 1980, starring Telly Savalas as the lead in ALCATRAZ THE
WHOLE SHOCKING STORY, a powerful feature too. And the second thing
concerns the actor David Morse, who played in another "Alcatraz" movie
several years later: THE ROCK...
Another film, another cast, but still about Alcatraz island.
Paul Wendkos at his very best.
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