A remake of Howard Hawks' 1931 The Criminal Code, Convicted serves up Glenn Ford as an average Joe sent up the river for accidentally causing the death of a man in a night-club brawl. Even the district attorney who prosecuted him (Broderick Crawford) finds his crime pardonable, but a bungled defense sent him to the big house. Parole should come early, but members of the board are cronies of the dead man's father, a prominent citizen, so Ford's in for five years.
In stir, Ford grows embittered and embraces the curious codes of the cell block. He tries to eschew the obvious dangers of a Draconian guard (Carl Benton Reid) and the obligatory stoolie (Frank Faylen, most vividly remembered as the sinister male nurse in the alcoholic ward of The Lost Weekend). But prison life is grinding him down and he decides to join in a break out. But he ends up in solitary after assaulting a guard minutes after learning his father has died, so escapes the destiny of his comrades, who are slaughtered..
Next, a change of regime: the new warden is none other than good-hearted Crawford, and with newfound liberties as a trusty he grows sweet on Crawford's daughter (Dorothy Malone). But the skies have not yet cleared, because there's a movement to kill Faylen for causing the deaths of the men involved in the prison break....
While not so truculent a prison drama as Brute Force, three years earlier, the more staid Convicted develops with cumulative power. Burnett Guffey photographs the decrepit squalor of the prison with loving revulsion. The script, too, is well written (if lacking the edge of the same year's Caged, set in a women's penitentiary), with a streak of gallows humor shot through it the warden counts among his household staff a cook who poisoned his wife and a barber who slit a man's throat. The story gets driven by character, as well, and the characters are sharply acted: Millard Mitchell, as Ford's cellmate, and Faylen are especially memorable.
Ford, on the other hand, plays the masochist a little too readily, a point that would not be so finely drawn if it didn't parallel so many of his other roles in the noir cycle. As a result, that quintessential bull-in-a-china shop, Crawford, upstages him scene after scene. Despite a wrap-up that's a bit too sunny to swallow, Convicted holds an honorable place in the long line of movies that have peered into the national psychosis we like to refer to as rehabilitation.
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