For Reel

Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)
June 12, 2015, 1:37 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Don Siegel
3.5 Stars
Riot in Cell Block 11The opening sequence of Riot in Cell Block 11 is a newsreel montage that articulates the frequency of prison riots across the country. With this introduction, it’s clear that director Don Siegel and screenwriter Richard Collins are articulating that this story is one of many, and that it is representative of a concern that exists outside of the escapist confines of the movie theater. As a message movie, it has some success, albeit in a different vein than a film like I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang. That is, it doesn’t show the violence–the prisoners often speak of their mistreatment and the overcrowding, but we don’t see it first hand–but the outrage that results from it. At its best, it’s a nicely complicated film about a revolt against a repressive institution, where even the innocent guards are implicated. When one of the guards tries to articulate that he’s just a man feeding his family, he’s met with disdain. He knows full well of the implications of what he’s involved in and continues to work for the institution that is robbing the prisoners of their own humanity. Neville Brand is well-cast as the go-between who successfully navigates both the world of the prisoners and of the warden. He’s not a “good” man–in some instances, he seems downright sociopathic–but the only man in the position to stand up for his cell block.

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