San Quentin

  • 1937
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Prison

One of a rash of prison reform movies that hit the screens in the last half of the 1930s (at least 27 appeared in 1937-39), SAN QUENTIN was blessed with a top-name cast that made the ordinary plot worthwhile. O'Brien is a former Army captain who is sent to San Quentin to bring some military-style order to the rowdy prison yard. He quickly employs a method...read more

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One of a rash of prison reform movies that hit the screens in the last half of the 1930s (at least 27 appeared in 1937-39), SAN QUENTIN was blessed with a top-name cast that made the ordinary plot worthwhile. O'Brien is a former Army captain who is sent to San Quentin to bring some

military-style order to the rowdy prison yard. He quickly employs a method of reform that separates the hardened criminals from first-time offenders. The night before he is to begin, O'Brien visits a nightclub where he watches singer Sheridan perform her act. He falls for Sheridan but keeps his

job secret when she admits that her brother, Bogart, was recently imprisoned in San Quentin. Bogart isn't easily converted to O'Brien's new methods and does all he can to make reform difficult. After a prison-yard brawl, Bogart gets sent into solitary. On his release he is visited by Sheridan, who

wrongly tries to sneak her brother some money. She is hauled into O'Brien's office where she discovers his secret. She bitterly refuses to further involve herself with him, remaining loyal to her brother. When O'Brien begins paying special attention to Bogart and making concessions for him,

Sheridan changes her opinion. To further prove his dedication to the prison population, O'Brien daringly saves some convicts from a crazed, machine gun-wielding inmate. Jealous of O'Brien's success, MacLane, the old guard superintendent, decides to stir up trouble. He sends a stoolie, Sawyer, into

the ranks to work beside Bogart on a road gang. When Sawyer begins blabbing about O'Brien's romance with Sheridan, ideas of escape form in Bogart's head. With help from Sawyer's tough moll, Borg, Bogart manages to get away, heading straight for his sister's apartment. There he confronts O'Brien,

wounding him with a gunshot before Sheridan can explain that they are in love. Now convinced that O'Brien's methods of reform are a step in the right direction, Bogart plans to surrender himself. On the way back to San Quentin, however, he is gunned down. He makes his way to the front gate before

collapsing, pleading with the prisoners to give O'Brien a chance. In the same way that 20,000 YEARS IN SING SING (1933) and ALCATRAZ ISLAND (1937, also starring Sheridan) captured the realistic atmosphere of those prisons, so did SAN QUENTIN. Because much of the film was shot in and around the

California penitentiary, one can almost feel the prison walls closing in. Adding another degree of authenticity was Bacon's decision to employ an actual criminal as technical advisor. Instead of scouting prisons to fill the position, Bacon asked O'Brien if any of his "con pals" would be

interested. O'Brien offered the name of Doc Stone, a con who had been in and out of prison for some 50 years. Stone was hired at $300 a week simply to offer information on prison life and dialog. Soon Stone found himself in high demand and not only did SAN QUENTIN benefit from his knowledge, so

did a number of other pictures.

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: One of a rash of prison reform movies that hit the screens in the last half of the 1930s (at least 27 appeared in 1937-39), SAN QUENTIN was blessed with a top-name cast that made the ordinary plot worthwhile. O'Brien is a former Army captain who is sent to… (more)

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