31 July 2007 | robert-temple-1
Excellent moralistic convict drama
This is a gritty drama set inside a tough prison, with the new chaplain (John Litel) as the hero figure. However, the emphasis is not on the usual suffering, beatings, rattling locks and bars, and chain gangs of convict films, but is strongly story-oriented. The very young, almost baby-faced, Glenn Ford plays a new inmate who has committed a crime specifically with the intention of being jailed, so that he can kill the sadistic guard who murdered his elderly father, who had gone to that prison for a white collar crime. The chaplain figures this out and intervenes. (Rochelle Hudson has a brief scene in his office where she tearfully tells Glenn Ford how much she loves him and begs him to give up his mission.) There are numerous unexpected plot twists and a lot of rough stuff. Over-arching everything are moralistic concerns about the nature and justification of vengeance, of trust, of abuse of prisoners, about prisons in general. Some of the chaplain's simplistic 'hug a thug' philosophy is clearly ridiculous, but it is never pandered to in the story, since most of the cons callously reject his overtures to befriend and 'understand' them. The character actor Barton MacLane here has a rare opportunity to star in a film, as the violent inmate Blackie. His heart of gold is buried so deep you need a rock-drill to find it, but at the end, a few glints of gold appear as he dies with a confession on his lips and saying with his last breath the pathetic remnants of what he can recall of 'Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep' and making the sardonic comment to the chaplain: 'I bet you didn't think I knew any prayer'.