Penitentiary [Special Edition] [DVD] [1979]

  • SKU: 9897422
  • Release Date: 01/24/2006
  • Rating: R
Jamaa Fanaka's gritty and idiosyncratic blend of blaxploitation, sports drama, and life-behind-bars thriller gets a third round on DVD in this release from Xenon Pictures. Penitentiary has been given a letterboxed transfer to disc in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1; while the image hasn't been enhanced for 16 x 9 monitors, the new transfer is clean, well-detailed, and struck from better-looking source materials than the previous video release. The original monophonic audio has been preserved in a Dolby Digital Stereo track, which sounds about as good as the original materials would permit. Writer, director, and producer Fanaka contributes a commentary track as a bonus, and while there's a fair amount of dead air, he does offer some interesting background on how the film got made (he was still a student at UCLA when he shot the movie, and used some of the school's equipment and facilities during the production). Scratchy trailers for Penitentiary and Penitentiary II round out the package, which is a definite improvement over this movie's earlier incarnations on video.
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Ratings & Reviews

Overall Customer Rating:
100% of customers would recommend this product to a friend (3 out of 3)

Special Features

  • Commentary from legendary writer/director Jamaa Fanaka


An innocent man must fight to survive when he's wrongfully imprisoned in this gritty urban drama. Martel Gordone (Leon Isaac Kennedy), called Too Sweet by his friends because he loves candy, is hitchhiking through the California desert when he's picked up by Linda (Hazel Spears), a prostitute. When Too Sweet and Linda stop at a roadside diner, they're harassed by a pack of bikers; a fist-fight breaks out, and one of the bikers winds up dead. Too Sweet is charged with murder, and convicted despite his innocence; he's shipped off to a run-down prison where Jesse Amos (Donovan Womack), one of the prisoners, lords it over the other inmates. Too Sweet ends up sharing a cell with Half Dead (Badja Djola), a violent lunatic who is one of Jesse's musclemen. Too Sweet refuses to buckle under to the intimidation dished out by Half Dead and his cronies, even after seeing how they've "turned out" Eugene (Thommy Pollard), another new fish who has become Jesse's sexual slave. Forced to defend himself even though he hates violence, Too Sweet displays a genuine talent for fighting, and is persuaded to take part in the prison boxing tournament, where he could win a night with a woman or even his freedom. However, Too Sweet sees the deck may be stacked against him when he finds out his opponent is the monstrous Half Dead. Shot when writer and director Jamaa Fanaka was still a student at UCLA, Penitentiary was the first starring vehicle for former disc jockey and future evangelist Leon Isaac Kennedy. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Leon Isaac Kennedy
    Leon Isaac Kennedy - Too Sweet
  • Image coming soon
    Thommy Pollard - Eugene
  • Image coming soon
    Hazel Spears - Linda
  • Badja Djola
    Badja Djola - Wilson
  • Image coming soon
    Gloria Delaney - Inmate

Customer rating

would recommend to a friend
  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

    Not bad, but not well acted

    • Verified PurchaserVerified Purchase
    • My Best Buy® Elite MemberElite Member

    Saw this movie when it first came out. Story was ok but the acting and boxing were pretty bad

    I would recommend this to a friend

  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

    Old school

    • Verified PurchaserVerified Purchase
    • My Best Buy® Elite MemberElite Member

    Love the old school movies, reminds my of the good movies

    I would recommend this to a friend

  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


    • Verified PurchaserVerified Purchase
    • My Best Buy® MemberMember

    Too Sweet, Half-Dead, Big Jesse, & Do-Dirty, are great........

    I would recommend this to a friend

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