Tales from the Prison Yard: 6 Film Collection [2 Discs] [DVD]

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Escape from San Quentin
If it worked for Frank Sinatra... Singing star Johnny Desmond goes dramatic in the low-budget Escape From San Quentin. Desmond plays escaped convict Mike Gilbert, who goes on the lam with fellow prisoners Gruber (Richard Devon) and Graham (Roy Engel). While hiding from the law, Gilbert comes to realize that he's fallen in love with Robbie (Merry Anders), the sister of his ex-wife (Peggy Maley). Through Robbie's influence, Gilbert decides to go straight, but his cohorts aren't quite so willing to reform. Like most Sam Katzman quickies of the era, Escape From San Quentin was loosely based on a true story. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Valachi Papers
This crime action movie is based on Peter Maas' best-selling book The Valachi Papers. That book, in turn, is based on prison conversations and the actual U.S. Senate testimony of Joseph Valachi, a high-ranking figure in the Mafia. The book, which tells precisely who did what to whom, when and why, electrified the nation. This film had to be made in Italy, because attempts to shoot in the U.S. were stymied by mob-arranged "accidents" and protests. The story is told in flashback as Valachi (Charles Bronson) tells a Federal agent about his activities from 1929 to 1961, when he worked for the Capo of Capos, Vito Genovese (Lino Ventura). Though his tale necessarily takes place in a number of episodes, it never fails to have lots of drama and action. ~ Clarke Fountain, Rovi

The Last Detail
Two Navy "lifers" and one military innocent briefly attempt to thumb their nose at Authority in Hal Ashby's The Last Detail (1973). "Badass" Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and "Mule" Mulhall (Otis Young) are assigned to escort young sailor Meadows (Randy Quaid, who beat out John Travolta for the part) from their Virginia base to a New England military prison, where Meadows will serve an eight-year sentence for attempting to swipe the commander's wife's polio donation can. Buddusky thinks that the sentence is a waste of Meadows' formative years, and he convinces a skeptical Mulhall to show the hapless Meadows a good time by partying on their per diem for the rest of the detail's allotted week. As they head north, the comically posturing Buddusky leads Meadows through the masculinizing rituals of getting drunk, getting in a fight, and getting laid; and he teaches Meadows to stand up for himself so well that Meadows tries to escape. Despite his self-proclaimed "badass" rep, however, Buddusky is, as Mulhall tells him, "a lifer like me," and the two ultimately have a job that they were ordered to do. Taking full advantage of the new ratings system, writer Robert Towne adapted the Darryl Ponicsan novel with an ear for how Navy men really talk. Objecting to the wall-to-wall obscenities, Columbia put off releasing the movie, but, after Nicholson won the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival, finally opened it for Oscar consideration in December 1973 before a full release several months later. Even with nominations for Nicholson, Quaid, and Towne, and rave reviews despite the notorious cussing, The Last Detail failed to find an audience. ~ Lucia Bozzola, Rovi

Cell 2455, Death Row
Cell 2455 Death Row is based on the autobiography of condemned prisoner and "jailhouse lawyer" Caryl Chessman. William Campbell plays the Chessman counterpart, here renamed Whit. A seriously disturbed misfit, Whit begins a life of crime, culminating in sexual assault as the "Lover's Lane Bandit." Condemned to the gas chamber at San Quentin, Whit spends six years fighting his sentence, gradually winning the support and sometimes the respect of various legal experts. The film ends in 1955 (the year of its production), some five years before Caryl Chessman's ultimate execution; accordingly, the film's "open-ended" finale has been removed from many TV prints. A more thorough and incisive study of the Chessman case was offered in the made-for-TV movie Kill Me If You Can, which starred Alan Alda. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

City of Fear
Fairly fast-paced, with only a lull here and there, this standard thriller by director Irving Lerner was one of his most successful films. It stars (Vince Edwards) as Vince, an escaped convict who grabs a metal vial from the prison's hospital before he makes his break. He thinks it is his ticket to the easy life because it contains heroin. Instead, the vial contains radioactive cobalt that could first sicken and then kill anyone who comes in close contact with it. The police are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. If they publicly announce a vial of deadly cobalt is on the loose, in the hands of an escaped convict, they might touch off a stampede. On the other hand, if they keep it a secret, who knows how many people will die. ~ Eleanor Mannikka, Rovi

Convicted stars Glenn Ford as a hotheaded young man convicted of manslaughter. Broderick Crawford plays a sympathetic warden (formerly a tough DA) who tries to help Ford adjust to prison life, eventually giving the lad responsibilities in the warden's office. Ford witnesses the killing of a stoolie by another convict (Millard Mitchell), but adheres to the prison "code" and refuses to talk, even though it means he will be accused of the killing. Mortally wounded by a guard in a subsequent fracas, the real murderer confesses and Ford escapes the electric chair--into the arms of the warden's daughter (Dorothy Malone), with whom he has fallen in love. Convicted was the third film version of Martin Flavin's 1929 stage play The Criminal Code. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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