A psychologist pioneers a research study at a prison. He seeks the help of six savvy inmates including a safe-cracker, a mobster, a pair of armed robbers and psychopath. Could he trust them? What's in it for them?
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The new state government is embarking on a program of prison reform, one of the measures to appoint a psychologist at Harbor State Prison on a six month probation period to ascertain prisoners' mental acuity, including skill aptitude, not only to make them more productive members of prison society, but also to prepare them for a straight life once outside the prison walls. The outcome of this trial will dictate whether this specific project will continue and if it will be expanded to other prisons. The appointee, hereafter referred to as Doc, is an academic who has no experience working with prisoners, and as such walks into the situation a bit naive. Despite the Warden's best guess that the trial is doomed to failure as the prisoners will never trust him or the process in only seeing him and it as a means to gather information to use against them - he being a so-called stoolie - Doc is determined to uphold the project's purpose, which requires confidentiality in whatever prisoners ...Written by
While viewing on cable TV one scene went out of focus. It may have been to guard test security. See more »
I also remember how grateful I was that at least some of my men had learned to be loyal. Not to a gang or to power but to a job; in a small way to society and this gave me hope for their future.
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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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