» 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.

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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.

» Görülmüstür / Passed by Censor (2019, Turkey / Germany / France)

I’ve watched 700+ prison films (or films with a fair chunk of prison in them) and not one has featured a prison guard whose job it is to read incoming and outgoing mail and censor it. Until this one. It’s delightfully unusual. But I also found it one of the hardest to watch. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on June 9th, 2020 at 9:53 pm. Updated on June 9th, 2020 at 9:53 pm.

» The Smashing Bird I Used to Know (1969, UK)

Also known as School for Unclaimed Girls, this film is very firmly rooted in the psychedelic, swinging 60s, but loiters around the era’s darker underside, focussing on loss, trauma and exploitation. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on May 31st, 2020 at 10:29 pm. Updated on June 17th, 2020 at 4:03 pm.

» Femmine in Fuga / Women in Fury  (1984, Italy / Brazil)

This is based on a true story. Allegedly. A beautiful young woman, Angela Duvall (Suzane Carvalho), stupidly takes the rap for her morally dissolute, heroin-addled brother, Sergio, who has killed a drug pusher. A third man at the scene would seem to have much to lose should Angela identify him, and he evidently has lots of friends in high-up places who can make life difficult for her. She is given 18 years in the nick, and thrown to the wolves. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on May 30th, 2020 at 5:59 pm. Updated on May 30th, 2020 at 5:59 pm.