The Welcome Speech

» The Expert (1995, USA)

The Expert - Michael Shaner as Martin Kagan, holding Assistant Warden Dr Alice Barnes (Alex Datcher) hostage

OK. So this bloke, John Lomax (Jeff Speakman), is not happy. Outraged, in fact, and seeking revenge and justice, in that order. He breaks into the Westgate Penitentiary in Tennessee*, to kill Martin Kagan (Michael Shaner), the psychopathic murderer of his sister, Jenny. Kagan has maintained that it was one of his multiple personalities who killed her, not him, and inexplicably he is supported in this by Westgate’s new Assistant Warden, psychologist Dr Alice Barnes (Alex Datcher), who has recently petitioned the Governor to move the resentenced Kagan off Death Row and into a new prototype rehab program for the criminally insane, The Saddle Horse, where he will talk to schoolchildren about stuff. But it just so happens that Lomax’s break-in coincides with a small emergency in the prison, from which nearly all the prisoners have been transferred to a newer prison, and in which Kagan has taken Dr Barnes hostage, shot and killed Warden Munsey (James Brolin) with his own gun, killed several other guards, and has freed all but one of the other condemned men from their cells. (more…)

Posted on September 26th, 2016 at 6:00 pm. Updated on September 26th, 2016 at 6:00 pm.

» Red Heat (1985, USA)

Red Heat - Linda Blair as Christine Carlson

Red Heat has an (undeserved) reputation as an exploitative Women in Prison film. Not surprising, perhaps, given that’s how it’s marketed these days. But its standout feature is not sleaze, but the same sort of xenophobia that characterises prison films like Midnight Express (1978) and In Hell (2003). Who would have thought? (more…)

Posted on September 6th, 2016 at 9:02 pm. Updated on September 6th, 2016 at 9:02 pm.

» The Last Castle (2001, USA)

The Last Castle - Robert Redford as General Eugene Irwin and Paul Calderón as Dellwo

The Last Castle has many of the hallmarks of a Shawshank; a classic battle of strategy between principled prisoner and corrupt warden, an imposing prison setting (the magnificent, fortress-like Tennessee State Penitentiary), and similar production values. But it doesn’t quite have the same impact… maybe because its message is a little muddier. (more…)

Posted on July 21st, 2016 at 9:14 pm. Updated on January 1st, 2017 at 9:02 am.

» Back Door to Heaven (1939, USA)

Back Door to Heaven - Wallace Ford as Frankie Rogers

pa·thos \ˈpā-ˌthäs, -ˌthȯs, -ˌthōs n. 1. quality in speech, writing, events &c., that excites pity, sympathy, sadness 2. this film. It’s full of it. (more…)

Posted on June 14th, 2016 at 9:55 pm. Updated on June 14th, 2016 at 9:55 pm.

» Cellblock Sisters: Banished Behind Bars (1995, USA)

Cellblock Sisters: Banished Behind Bars - Gail Harris as May and Annie Wood as April Conner

May Conner (Gail Harris) is 19* and in prison. She’s a Miss Goody Two-Shoes… a little naive when it comes to crime and punishment, and is unused to prison lingo. “They found a second set of finger things.” “Prints,” says her street-wise older sister, April (Annie Wood). “Prints, right.” (more…)

Posted on May 16th, 2016 at 9:59 pm. Updated on July 9th, 2016 at 6:13 pm.

» The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015, USA)

The Stanford Prison Experiment - Michael Angarano as 'guard' Christopher 'John Wayne' Archer and 'prisoners'

I’m not aware of any other psychology experiment that has spawned three films; I don’t think that poor Ivan Pavlov can boast even one movie, notwithstanding Pavlov’s Dog (2005). And I’m not sure why, after two perfectly sound movies in Das Experiment (2001) and The Experiment (2010), it was seen to be worthwhile to make yet another film based on Dr Philip Zimbardo’s famous 1971 experiment examining the psychology of prison - its impact on prisoners and guards. (more…)

Posted on March 28th, 2016 at 11:59 am. Updated on March 28th, 2016 at 11:59 am.

» Vendetta (1986, USA)

Vendetta - Karen Chase as Laurie Collins, with a wrist lock on Kay Butler (Sandy Martin)

Vendetta has all the standard ’80s trademarks you’d expect - prisoners with big hair and wearing workout gear like they’d just stepped out of a Flashdance or Let’s Get Physical video - but no-one (at least in prison) seems to be held accountable for much. Wasn’t glasnost an ’80s thing? (more…)

Posted on March 21st, 2016 at 8:00 pm. Updated on March 21st, 2016 at 8:00 pm.

» Toy Story 3 (2010, USA)

Toy Story 3

I’d seen several ‘top prison movie’ lists that include Toy Story 3, but was a little dubious. I’d imagined toys escaping from a toy box and had guessed it was a very long bow to liken it to a prison breakout… a bit like trying to draw an analogy between the whale in Free Willy and a prisoner’s quest for freedom. But I was wrong; a prison escape (of sorts) it is. (more…)

Posted on March 9th, 2016 at 11:23 am. Updated on March 9th, 2016 at 11:29 am.

» No Escape (1994, USA)

No Escape - Ray Liotta as Captain John T Robbins

It’s the underpinning socio-ethical positions here that I find even harder to fathom than the whole action-movie-implausibility thing. Which is saying something. (more…)

Posted on February 22nd, 2016 at 2:02 pm. Updated on February 22nd, 2016 at 2:02 pm.

» The Chair (1988, USA)

The Chair - Paul Benedict as Warden Edward Dwyer, Gary McCleery as inmate Rick Donner, and Mike Starr as guard Wilson

A warden with a past he’d rather forget. An idealistic psychiatrist running a new psycho-support program for prisoners. A prison not fit to house prisoners. A wrathful ghost of a former warden. And a film that mixes comedy and horror, but misses the mark on both counts… while remaining sort of amiable. (more…)

Posted on February 15th, 2016 at 1:12 pm. Updated on February 15th, 2016 at 1:25 pm.