Lee Umstetter is a lifer at San Quentin prison and a multiple suicide attempter. Eventually, another prisoner suggests reading to find something better to do with his time. Lee takes that advice and finds himself inspired from what he reads to write a play about life in prison. He has auditions and assembles a cast from his fellow inmates. The play proves popular and it catches the attention of a female reporter who writes about it, creating publicity that allows for a parole for him. Once out, he later reassembles his cast when they come out to do the play professionally. However, they learn that the demands of the life outside are difficult to cope with for the newly released and their play needs to be changed in major ways while they struggle to make it succeed.Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <email@example.com>
It's difficult to evaluate a film in which you've been to even the slightest extent involved. You tend to wish it well. I was an atmosphere person in the prison scenes here, filmed at a cement factory a few miles outside of Wilmington, North Carolina. I watch it with gusto, not only my scenes but all of them. Nick Nolte wearing what he thinks is the high-collared coat of a Broadway producer. I had a terrific scene in which I hand an inmate a glass of milk with my thumb in it and he throws it back at me. (They had trouble refitting me after each take, what with my neck as it is.) Marilisa and I finally wound up putting a safety pin through the flesh of my neck, so anxious was I to be Taft-Hartleyed into SAG. It was the only production I worked on in which the character had a name, Bruce Olson. Thank Bog for John Hancock. He picked me out of a lineup to play the sloppy corrections officer because I looked least like Doctor Jeykll and most like Mr. Hyde. I was so nervous that when he called "action" I mimed the scene, not knowing the cameras were rolling. Hancock called me aside, patted me on the shoulder, and gently told me that "Action" meant the whole thing, as if I were the village idiot, instead of a highly dignified and educated personage in the Wilmington community. As far as the movie goes, I've seen better, insofar as I can divorce myself from it, the way a doctor does with a patient. The riot scene was no joke. I was a member of the riot squad, went through a blistering two-day course in crowd control, and a bit of burning phosphorous dribbled down into my face between the plastic shield and the goggles and burned off my eyebrows. Confused by the smell of incense and burning hair I milled around trying to look fierce. Must have succeeded because one slightly built African-American kid was positioned opposite me (I was wardrobed in an international orange jump suit with black belt, black boots, gas mask, helmet and face plate, and riot baton) and shakily said, "Hey, don't hurt me, man." Stumbled over a couple of inmates, who really were inmates, or rather ex-inmates. At the end of the day I went to the PA and told her I'd locked myself out of my car, how could I get back in? Libby hollered, "Anyone here know how to get into a locked car?" and every hand shot up. It was a tough shoot overall. Everyone in the riot scene wound up bruised. I wish the effort had been worth it, but it doesn't seem to have been, even at more than ten years' distance. I wish it had been a better movie, but it's not too bad as it is. Above average. Let's say that.
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