7.3/10
24,670
118 user 43 critic

Murder in the First (1995)

An eager and idealistic young attorney defends an Alcatraz prisoner accused of murdering a fellow inmate. The extenuating circumstances: his client had just spent over three years in solitary confinement.

Director:

Marc Rocco

Writer:

Dan Gordon
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ON DISC
2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Christian Slater ... James Stamphill
Kevin Bacon ... Henri Young
Gary Oldman ... Milton Glenn
Embeth Davidtz ... Mary McCasslin
William H. Macy ... D.A. William McNeil
Stephen Tobolowsky ... Mr. Henkin
Brad Dourif ... Byron Stamphill
R. Lee Ermey ... Judge Clawson
Mia Kirshner ... Adult Rosetta Young
Ben Slack Ben Slack ... Jerry Hoolihan
Stefan Gierasch ... Warden James Humson
Kyra Sedgwick ... Blanche, Hooker
Alex Bookston Alex Bookston ... Alcatraz Doc (as Alexander Bookston)
Richie Allan ... Jury Foreman
Herb Ritts Herb Ritts ... Mike Kelly
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Storyline

Henri Young stole five dollars from a post office and ended up going to prison - to the most famous, or infamous, prison of them all: Alcatraz. He tried to escape, failed, and spent three years and two months in solitary confinement - in a dungeon, with no light, no heat and no toilet. Milton Glenn, the assistant warden, who was given free reign by his duty-shirking superior, was responsible for Young's treatment. Glenn even took a straight razor and hobbled Young for life. After three years and two months, Young was taken out of solitary confinement and put with the rest of the prisoners. Almost immediately, Young took a spoon and stabbed a fellow prisoner in the neck, killing him. Now, Young is on trial for murder, and if he's convicted he'll go to the gas chamber. An eager and idealistic young attorney, James Stamphill, is given this impossible case, and argues before a shocked courtroom that Young had a co-conspirator. The true murderer, he says, was Alcatraz. Written by J. Spurlin

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

One broke his silence. The other broke the system. See more »

Genres:

Drama | Thriller

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for strong images of prison brutalities, sexuality and language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA | France

Language:

English

Release Date:

20 January 1995 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Asesinato en primer grado See more »

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Box Office

Gross USA:

$17,382,000
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital | Dolby SR

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Embeth Davidtz went on record saying that she hated the experience of working on the film, one of her first large budget efforts. See more »

Goofs

Along with the warden's barracks, exterior shots of the island also show the rubble on the south end of the island when the apartments where many of guards' families should be seen, given the time period. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Prison Barber: They're coming! Run!
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Crazy Credits

This Film is Inspired by a True Story See more »

Connections

References Meet John Doe (1941) See more »

Soundtracks

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen!
(uncredited)
Traditional English Christmas, earliest known publication 1833
Sung by Alcatraz wives and children
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User Reviews

Not what it appears to be
2 December 2000 | by sdbeanSee all my reviews

My comments are directed to the claim that this film is based on a true story. The true facts of Henri Young's case are significantly different from the story told in the movie. For instance, Young was not just a petty thief when he came to Alcatraz -- he was already doing time for bank robbery and murder. Nor was he kept in an underground dungeon for three years as punishment for an escape attempt -- his punishment was served in an isolation cell on the prison's first floor with the normal facilities that all prisoners' cells had. His case did not lead directly to the closing of Alcatraz; it continued as a Federal prison for over twenty years after his trial. Of course, there were some abuses at Alcatraz (as at virtually all prisons). Young's trial had some impact on correcting those abuses, but not to the extent suggested by the film.

If you're interested in another view of the Henri Young case, visit the Bureau of Prisons web site (I can't give the URL because that would violate the comments posting guidelines) and search for "Murder in the First".

In any film based on a true event, some license must be granted to the screenwriter. There's no way they can know exactly what was said in every conversation, so representative dialogue has to be written. Some minor characters will probably be composites. These things are understandable. But when the film blatantly distorts the main characters and the main events of the story, I can't help but think that the point the film is making is probably built on shaky ground. "Murder in the First" may be entertaining in some people's opinion, but no one should come away from this film thinking they have seen history portrayed accurately.


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