» Prisoner Maria: The Movie (1995, Japan)

One feature of the Australian quasi-biopic, Chopper (2000), is the (real-life) ‘Overcoat Gang’ – so named because its prisoner members wore big overcoats, even in summer, in which they would conceal shivs, iron bars and other weapons, or at least give the impression to their enemies that they were tooled up, even when unarmed. Overcoats kept coming to mind as I watched this very different type of movie. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on August 15th, 2020 at 1:55 pm. Updated on August 15th, 2020 at 1:55 pm.

» Jailbreak (1936, USA)

If it weren’t for the fact that the dead body doesn’t materialise until the 34th minute of this 60-minute movie, this could be a classic whodunnit – there’s a cop prone to overstepping the mark and barking up the wrong tree, a brash investigative reporter cast in the Miss Marple role, the requisite number of shifty-looking suspects, and plenty of red herrings. Mind you, I can’t remember Miss Marple ever having a love interest. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on August 8th, 2020 at 11:46 am. Updated on August 8th, 2020 at 11:46 am.

» Escape from Pretoria (2020, UK / Australia / USA / South Africa)

The difficulty with an escape movie based on a real-life escape is that you know the outcome even before the action starts. Whatever suspense that might be built into the story – the risks taken, the panicky times when they are nearly discovered, the obstacles that threaten the plot’s success – you know will amount to nothing. Come to think of it, that applies to virtually every escape movie, true or otherwise. Every action movie, in fact.  Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on August 1st, 2020 at 8:49 pm. Updated on August 1st, 2020 at 8:49 pm.

» Murder in the Big House (1942, USA)

This is much more a newspaper office movie, or a cub reporter movie, than a prison movie, even though it centres on a prison murder. It was made around the time that the US entered World War II, but you wouldn’t know it. Two killers are on Death Row, waiting to go to the electric chair, and it’s their story that captures all the headlines. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on July 25th, 2020 at 4:56 pm. Updated on July 25th, 2020 at 4:56 pm.

» Prisoner/Terrorist (2007, Japan)

Silly me. Just when I thought that I’d finally figured out that one of the spectres who visits the titular protagonist in this film is a Japanese embodiment of 19th Century French revolutionary Louis Auguste Blanqui, I read an interview with director Masao Adachi where it’s asserted that one of the characters is clearly modelled on Japanese Red Army (JRA) leader Fusako Shigenobu – a character that I had somehow reckoned to be his sister. I can’t be sure whether it’s the film’s opaqueness that makes it a difficult viewing experience and a somewhat tedious, turgid movie, or my dullness. Maybe it’s both.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on July 18th, 2020 at 8:31 pm. Updated on July 18th, 2020 at 8:31 pm.

» Women Without Names (1940, USA)

This story seemed a little familiar, and it took me some time to work out that it is a reworking of Ladies of the Big House (1931), both films based on the same play by Ernest Booth, written while he was serving a sentence in San Quentin. In all, Booth served around 30 years in prison, so he knew more than most about the caper… but less about women’s prisons, one would imagine. And even less about happy endings, you’d think, but he knew enough about successful theatrical formulae to make sure his story had one.  Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on July 11th, 2020 at 4:48 pm. Updated on July 11th, 2020 at 4:48 pm.

» Prison Planet (1992, USA)

Also known as Badlanders, this a low-budget, poorly acted film which borrows far too heavily from Mad Max‘s dystopia. I’m not sure whether it makes it any less terrible because it mostly has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. Maybe a smidge. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on July 9th, 2020 at 4:38 pm. Updated on July 9th, 2020 at 4:38 pm.

» A cavallo della tigre / On the Tiger’s Back (1961, Italy)

This is a classic escape drama. And a comedy, of sorts. Its story is told, in a desperate attempt at personal mitigation, by an ingenuous (and basically decent) man who gets caught up in someone else’s escape plot, and is literally dragged along for the ride. When he is on the run he declines the opportunity to bail out and go back and finish the last months of his sentence, referencing the Chinese adage about ‘riding the tiger’ (it’s dangerous to ride a tiger, but even worse getting off, because it will eat you). He’s a simple man, but might not be the complete simpleton that his fellow escapees believe him to be. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on July 5th, 2020 at 9:58 pm. Updated on July 5th, 2020 at 9:58 pm.

» La Taularde / Jailbirds (2015, France / Belgium)

“You’re the one who chose prison. Now own it,” Chief Guard Elise Schoelcher (Marie-Sohna Condé) tells Mathilde Leroy (Sophie Marceau), who is desperately keen to be relieved of her edgy cellmate. It’s fair advice in the circumstances. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on June 23rd, 2020 at 10:03 pm. Updated on June 23rd, 2020 at 10:03 pm.

» Jail Busters (1955, USA)

“Without the elephant of a doubt” (to quote ‘Slip’ Mahoney), this 39th Bowery Boys comedy is a better prison movie than their 19th [Triple Trouble (1950)]. I’m just not sure that says a great deal. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on June 20th, 2020 at 1:49 pm. Updated on August 2nd, 2020 at 10:50 pm.