A powerful and intelligent prison film, RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11 concerns an uprising of Folsom Prison inmates, led by Brand. The prisoners' purpose in revolting is not to escape incarceration, but to improve the horrendous conditions under which they live. Aided by his psychotic lieutenant, Gordon, Brand overpowers a guard and the inmates' takeover of the...read more
A powerful and intelligent prison film, RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11 concerns an uprising of Folsom Prison inmates, led by Brand. The prisoners' purpose in revolting is not to escape incarceration, but to improve the horrendous conditions under which they live. Aided by his psychotic
lieutenant, Gordon, Brand overpowers a guard and the inmates' takeover of the cell block begins. While holding several other guards hostage, Brand contacts the warden, Meyer, and, with the help of fellow inmate Osterloh, lists his demands. The prisoners are fed up with pointless activities,
sadistic guards, bad food, shoddy recreational facilities, dilapidated cells, and the fact that truly dangerous inmates (like Gordon) are thrown in with the mainstream population. Meyer, who has been fighting the politicians for money to make such reforms, is sympathetic to these demands, but his
pleas to officials have fallen on deaf ears. As news of the uprising spreads through the prison, other cell blocks join in the revolt. Worried that the whole prison might explode into an orgy of violence, Meyer is forced to call the local militia for assistance, though he knows this may provoke
further bloodshed. Meanwhile, Brand struggles to keep Gordon under control and to prevent unnecessary violence. Unfortunately, Gordon, a homicidal maniac, cares nothing about Brand's reform demands and has participated in the riot for purely selfish reasons. The revolt threatens to collapse
because of him; meanwhile, Meyer has his hands full trying to convince Faylen, a senator, that the prisoners' requests are reasonable. Though the governor has agreed to the demands and to let the prisoners continue their sentences with no reprisals, the legislature rejects his proposal and demands
that Brand be given an additional 30 years for instigating the riot. While negotiations proceed, Gordon whips the other inmates into a frenzy, and even stabs senator Faylen in the arm. When the standoff finally ends, the inmates, the politicians, and the public have gained little from the
RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11 is both one of the best films by director Don Siegel and one of the best films in the prison genre. Veteran producer Walter Wanger, whose impressive list of credits includes YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE (1937); ALGIERS (1938); FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940); and Siegel's later
science-fiction classic INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), had a special interest in the project, having served time himself during the early 1950s for shooting and wounding Jennings Lang, who was the agent of Wanger's wife at the time, Joan Bennett. Convinced that Bennett and Lang's
relationship was destroying his home, Wanger confronted the pair with a gun in Lang's office parking lot, across the street from a Beverly Hills police station. Wanger shot at Lang's car and then at the ground, but the bullet ricocheted and hit Lang in the groin. Wanger turned himself in and was
sentenced to serve four months at the Wayside Honor Farm in Castiac, California. While Wayside was not exactly Folsom, Wagner's time there obviously influenced his view of the American prison system.
The film's script, by Richard Collins, deals clearly and intelligently with the relationships among the prisoners, guards, politicians, and society. None of these groups are stereotyped as good or bad guys; instead they are portrayed as variously rational or irrational, honorable or dishonorable,
caring or callous according to each individual's bent. Because Brand's character tries to prevent bloodshed, Siegel keeps the violence at a minimum, but the film never makes excuses for the prisoners. They are all in jail because they deserve to be there, as they freely admit. Their concern is
that their incarceration provide some real benefit to themselves and society. Shot on location in Folsom Prison, the film has a gritty, documentary look that enhances its overall effect. Siegel would again venture into a real-life prison, Alcatraz, to shoot another superior entry in the genre,
ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979).
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