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  • The occupants of Cell Block 11 take guards as prisoners to protest at the brutal conditions in their prison. The problems are many, be it overcrowding, awful food, the mixing of psychopaths with safe category prisoners, or the treatment dished out by sadistic guards. The inmates have had enough. So led by James V. Dunn (Neville Brand), the cons draw up a list of changes they want to see enforced, changes that liberal minded Warden Reynolds (Emile Meyer) actually concurs with. But as the clock ticks down the cons are beset with in fighting, while on the outside the press and politics start to take a hold.

    Tho what is known as a "B" movie, and with a budget to match such a programmer, Riot In Cell Block 11 remains today one of the finest entries in the incarceration based genre of film. As relevant today as it was back then, the film has much grit and realism coursing thru its veins. Directed by Don Siegel (Dirty Harry/Escape From Alcatraz), it's written by Richard Collins (uncredited on Invasion Of The Body Snatchers), but it's with producer Walter Wanger that the core of the piece belongs. In 1951 Wanger was convicted of the attempted murder of Jennings Lang. Lang was having an affair with Wanger's wife, and when Wanger caught them in the act, he shot Lang in the groin. Wanger, after copping a plea of temporary insanity, served four months in San Quentin Prison, where his experiences there provided the genesis for Riot in Cell Block 11.

    Shot in a semi-documentary style on location at California's Folsom Prison, Siegel and Wanger used actual inmates and guards to authenticate their movie. This was made possible by a certain Sam Peckinpah, who here was doing his first film work as a third assistant director. Legend has it that the Warden of Folsom knew "Bloody Sam's" family and thus allowed the makers into the prison to film. The film also benefits by not having big name stars filling out the cast, Brand & Meyer are joined by Frank Faylen, Leo Gordon, Robert Osterloh, Paul Frees & Whit Bissell. Solid performers to a man, but no headliners, and this helps, as they mix with the real crims and coppers, the realistic feel the makers created.

    Siegel's movie isn't looking for simple answers to a persistent problem, it could have easily just gone for a death or glory violent piece of entertainment. But instead it's laced with intelligence and never sinks to preaching, in fact its finale is a rather sombre footnote to the whole episode. The characters are excellently drawn too, and it's good to see that Collins and co don't just make this a cons against authority piece, they clash with each other. Thus hitting home that not all the cons are singing off of the same page. As Warden Reynolds tells when asked about riot leader Dunn, "he's a psychopath, but he's an intelligent psychopath - just like many others on the outside" it's a telling piece of writing. As is the fact that there's no soft soaping either, there's no redemptive love interests or old sage lags to talk common sense into the ring leaders, it's tough uncompromising stuff.

    And while we are noting the need for reform, feeling a bond with the prisoners complaints, we are then jolted to not forget that evil men do still reside here. Evil that is perfectly essayed by an excellent Leo Gordon (a real life San Quentin resident) as Crazy Mike Carnie. Watch out for one scene involving a call to a guards wife, the impact is like taking a blow from a claw hammer. You will understand why Siegel said Gordon was the scariest man he ever met.

    A top draw movie that doesn't take sides, it has both sides of the fence firmly in its sights. With us the public observing from the middle. 10/10
  • Gritty, realistic, semi-documentary style, early film from Don Siegel - two years before 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers'. Essentially a social comment film about the poor conditions in prisons, 'Riot in Cell Block 11' doesn't force its point with cliches and manages to be an effective 'B' Movie.

    The storyline starts quickly with a group of prisoners taking their warders hostage and barricading themselves in their cell block. Narrative then follows the proceedings to their conclusion, the action never straying from the prison itself.

    Film succeeds mainly as a result of not having any forced characters - none of the prisoners are particularly likable and there are none of the usual dumb characterisations usually found in prison movies. The various authority figures deal with the situation they are presented with in a matter of fact way, and the films stark style remains through to the end.

    As I was watching 'Riot in Cell Block 11' I was dreading some wise old sage prisoner coming out of the woodwork, due for parole the following week, who was somehow going to contrive to get himself shot just as the riot was coming to a close, to enjoy a lengthy death scene in someone's arms. Thank goodness nothing like this occurs.

    Film made me think of 'Killer's Kiss', in that they are both 1950's low-budget movies with great potential, from a soon-to-be famous director. 'Riot in Cell Block 11' succeeds in all areas, and while its targets may be low it certainly deserves more recognition.
  • zetes31 October 2002
    An exceptional social issue film about prisoners rioting, trying to get the press to tell the stories of their mistreatment and trying to get the government to effect change in the prison system. Everything about it is absolutely top-notch: the screenplay and the direction are realistic and very, very taut. Don Siegel, I assume, didn't have a huge budget on this one, and he accomplishes an amazing lot. I love the way Richard Collin's script pits the rioters not only against the establishment, but also against each other. In a cell block full of so many differing personalities (or perhaps "criminalities" is a better word), they're not all likely to agree. The acting is almost universally excellent, with the one exception of Emile Meyer, who plays the Warden. He's a little creaky, but all the others, including Neville Brand, Leo Gordon (who had been a real prisoner in the prison seen in this film), and Robert Osterloh among many others, are pretty much perfect. One strong moment after another makes Riot in Cell Block 11 a must-see gem, a low-budget masterpiece. 10/10.
  • In one way - 1954's "Riot In Cell Block 11" was kind of like watching a slice of Film Noir that goes to prison with no chance of parole - (Well, sort of) - Minus, of course, the femme fatale angle.

    As far as prison pictures go - This gritty, low-budget, tough-guy tale (though mighty tame by today's standards) still packed a substantial wallop even without a non-stop barrage of profanity and bloodshed.

    Filmed (in b&w) on location at Folsom State Prison, California - This particular picture is notable for being one of the first in its genre to have the disgruntled convicts manipulate the media in order to make their grievances about prison conditions known to the public.

    Yes. This picture featured typical, prison stereotypes. And, yes, it contained its fair share of unintentional humour, as well - But, all the same - (With its fast-paced, 80-minute running time) - It was still well-worth a view.

    "Riot In Cell Block 11" (which was produced on a $300,000 budget) was directed by Don Siegel, who would later go on to direct Clint Eastwood in 1971's Dirty Harry.
  • Producer Walter Wanger wanted to make a film that exposed the appalling conditions of the prison community - and having been incarcerated himself after shooting a man he was sure was having an affair with his wife - had plenty of personal experience.

    The resulting 1954 80 minute gritty drama, almost an unprecedented certificate 15, even now, was directed by Don Siegel. Following a popular format in those days, it starts off with a social documentary approach, complete with concerned voice-over - that this is a public announcement, part expose, part drama. It is not based on fact, at least not from one singular incident.

    As you might expect, we follow prison guards (my title is the warning given to them, as they arm-up to thwart the riot), politicians and those who shape policy and of course, a handful of inmates. These provide everyday backbone; their tales are simple and uncomplicated and it's impossible to not side with them, or at least their plight. As ring- leaders take guards hostage, it becomes a nail-biting cat and mouse scenario, with Dunn (Neville Brand) producing ultimatums. Warden Emile Meyer wants negotiation, state officials want only swift force.

    The film is well made and tautly directed, efficient but doesn't feel rushed. The version I saw on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) had a slight green cast but was generally good. I imagine that Riot In would have been compelling and possibly controversial viewing for cinema goers. It would have found favour especially amongst those who liked the hard crime film-noir type of dramas of the day, but without any of the glamour of femme fetales.

    My guess is that whilst many prison dramas had been made at this point, they were character-lead and not out to socially comment. This would have been as hard-hitting as any TV '60 Minute' (etc) documentary and because it's still a good and credible film, it's still within the public domain, though is rarely shown and expensive to buy.
  • gavin69425 June 2014
    Several prison inmates, to protest brutal guards, substandard food, overcrowding and barely livable conditions, stage an uprising, in which most of the inmates join, and take several guards hostage. Negotiations between the inmates and prison officials are stymied, however, by politicians interfering with the prison administration, and by dissension and infighting in the inmates' own ranks.

    The producer Walter Wanger (known for Ford's "Stagecoach" and Hitchcock's "Foreign Correspondent") had recently been in prison for shooting his wife's lover, and his experience there motivated this production. The film was shot on location at Folsom State Prison with real inmates and guards playing background roles.

    "Riot in Cell Block 11" was the first film work for Sam Peckinpah, who was hired as a third assistant casting director by Don Siegel. Wanger and Siegel would team up again two years later for "Invasion of the Body Snatchers".

    The Criterion release is a must-have, with plenty of background information on those involved, the inspiration, related writings and an excellent audio commentary from a noted film historian.
  • bkoganbing11 January 2017
    Using nothing but character players and the personal recollections of what producer Walter Wanger saw while he did a stretch in the joint Don Siegel crafted a real masterpiece of a prison film in Riot In Cell Block 11. In fact the lack of star players gives this film a nice ring of authenticity to it.

    Cell Block 11 in this particular prison is the solitary ward, the place where the toughest cases are assigned. With a pair like Neville Brand and Leo Gordon in that block would you think otherwise.

    Anyway to protest the conditions they're in the prisoners led by Brand stage a riot where they take the guards assigned to that block hostage. When Brand is wounded in a quarrel, Leo Gordon takes over leadership and he's belonging in the psycho ward. But he's the toughest guy in the joint and nobody is going to argue with him.

    Emile Meyer does a great job as the warden who is a decent and compassionate individual trying to affect a few reforms. His pleas fall on deaf ears because then as now, convicts don't have any votes and by definition they are an anti-societal group. Meyer's humanity is contrasted with that of Frank Faylen who is a political appointee and tries a grandstand play with the convicts that almost gets him killed.

    This is as realistic a prison drama as you will ever get. Big accolades go here to Walter Wanger who had an incredible unique perspective of life on the inside and turned it with Don Siegel's help into a great motion picture.
  • I hadn't even heard of this movie before until I stumbled upon the DVD of it at my neighborhood video store, and I decided to take a risk and rent it. After watching it, I'm glad I took a chance. Though the movie does seem a little tame when compared to modern day prison movies, it still packs a decent sized punch. It does bring up some of the brutal things prisoners have to go through, as well as the sometimes brutal behavior of prisoners themselves. And the way things are wrapped up at the end does come across as believable. The authentic feel of the movie is greatly assisted by shooting in a real prison with real inmates and guards.

    If I have a complaint about the movie, it would be that none of the characters are really examined deeply. I would have liked to have learned more about some of the ringleaders of the riot, as well as some of the guards. Though such deeper examinations might have made the movie much longer than the lean yet efficient eighty minute running time, and the movie might have dragged. But that's a minor problem; the movie as a whole works very well.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Riot In Cell Block 11" is a fast-moving, low budget, prison drama that's violent, gritty and extremely hard-hitting. Its story about a riot that's organised to achieve better living conditions for the convicts in a large prison forcefully illustrates the reasons for their grievances and highlights the numerous problems associated with trying to make any meaningful improvements. With its relatively short running time, its style is predictably punchy, direct and economical but what makes it more remarkable is the intelligent, balanced and sincere way in which the whole subject of prison reform is examined.

    This movie is a typical docu-noir as it features extensive location work, a newsreel-style narration and many actual prisoners and guards appearing as extras. Additionally, one of the main characters is played by Leo Gordon who'd spent time in prison for armed robbery and its producer Walter Wanger also served a sentence for shooting a man who he believed was having an affair with his wife (movie star Joan Bennett). Wanger's experience made him a passionate advocate of prison reform and no doubt, is one of the reasons why the movie provides such a powerful and authentic picture of prison life in the 1950s.

    A group of prisoners break out of their cells one night and start a riot before overcoming their guards and holding them as hostages. The prisoners' leader James V Dunn (Neville Brand) makes the men's grievances known to the warden and threatens to kill the guards unless he's allowed to explain the men's demands to the press. Warden Reynolds (Emile Meyer) agrees and Dunn subsequently tells a group of reporters that the prisoners want an immediate end to overcrowding, terrible food and the practice of housing mentally ill convicts with the general prison population. Furthermore, they want an end to the beatings that are routinely meted out by the guards.

    In response to the trouble at the prison, the governor had sent his emissary, Commissioner Haskell (Frank Faylen) to negotiate on his behalf but on hearing the prisoners' demands, he refuses to make any concessions and threatens to have all the men executed unless they hand the guards back unharmed. Dunn's second-in-command, Crazy Mike Carnie (Leo Gordon), a man who's less stable than Dunn, becomes so incensed at Haskell's stance that he throws a knife at him and wounds him in the chest.

    To reinforce his intransigent stance, Haskell arranges for the state police to end the problems in cell block 11 by blowing a hole in a wall and the prisoners respond by tying their hostages to the same wall. Surprisingly, however, before the planned explosion takes place, the prisoners receive a message to confirm that the governor has agreed their demands and their victory is also reported in the newspapers. The events that follow don't work out in the way that the prisoners had envisaged and ultimately, they're left with mixed feelings.

    The divisions that exist within both sides who are involved in the dispute at the prison are clearly described as Dunn has to control the recklessly violent Mike Carnie, see off a challenge by another psychopathic prisoner who wants to take over the leadership role and confront the apathy of another man who doesn't want to participate because he expects to be paroled soon. Similarly, the sympathetic warden, who has long advocated the reforms that the prisoners want is forced to follow the course dictated by his political bosses who have their own reasons for not wanting to make concessions.

    Neville Brand and Leo Gordon are well cast as the two leaders of the riot and Emile Meyer is incredibly subtle and strong in his portrayal of the warden who carries out his orders with great dignity whilst at the same time feeling completely frustrated by regularly seeing men so brutalised by their experience in prison that 65% of them consistently re-offend. "Riot In Cell Block 11" is a movie that says a great deal in a short space of time and commendably recognises the complexities involved with prison reform rather than just resorting to using stereotypes and promoting simplistic solutions.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Without resorting to the type of melodrama that some of the Warner Brothers pictures of the same era tended to do, "Riot in Cell Block 11" is a fairly gritty piece of work that surprises with characters on both sides of the jail cell expressing similar views. The film attempts to influence the viewer toward a need to improve prison conditions in general, and in that regard, the warden in charge (Emile Meyer) agrees with the prisoners that something needs to be done to improve physical conditions, train them for a trade once they're released and keep the mentally challenged separate from the population at large.

    That mentally challenged part gets a workout in the story from inmate Crazy Mike Carnie, realistically portrayed by veteran character actor Leo Gordon. Until researching this picture I had no idea he was once incarcerated himself for armed robbery, and I never noticed his formidable physical appearance before in a handful of Western movies and TV series appearances. Suffice it to say he could have handled himself credibly in any situation he might have encountered.

    The choice of leader for the prison uprising featured here was also a casting coup; Neville Brand had the perfect face and demeanor for a convict ready to explode. His no nonsense approach demanded the killing of a guard for every prisoner who died when the authorities attempted to regain control. Interestingly, things didn't go that far even when one of the inmates died following the state police advance on the prisoners during the siege.

    Though the newspaper headlines proclaimed 'Rioters Win' once the state governor signed off on the prisoner list of demands, the victory for the inmates was a short lived one. One almost feels sorry for convict leader Dunn (Brand) when he learns he'll face charges and a potential thirty year prison term for leading the riot, offset by the warden's partial victory in getting needed repairs for the prison and having the mental defectives like Carnie segregated from the main population. That was a perfect moment for Dunn to go ballistic on the warden but the picture didn't go in that direction.

    For a more recent picture, 1980's "Brubaker" does a commendable job of exposing corruption in the prison system, with an emphasis on the attitude of politicians who would rather look the other way when it comes to prison reform. In that one, Robert Redford portrays a newly assigned prison warden who integrates his way into the prison population to take on corruption from the inside.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    After the credits the opening scene is done in documentary style. The headline reads "Riots Rip US Prisons" in 35 states, with massive destruction costing millions of dollars. An authority, Richard McGee (as himself), says that the reasons for the mass disturbances are the neglect of institutions by government leaders, with the public being culpable. This beginning sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

    The next scene displays the inside of Folsom Prison in northern California (located outside of Sacramento) where 4,000 inmates are incarcerated. The toughest prisoners, who have a chalk mark "X" on their individual cells, are fed individually. Before long a guard is overpowered, then three others. They are held hostage while other convicts are released from their cells. The inmates barricade themselves inside the cell block. When Warden Reynolds (Emile Meyer) appears, convict James Dunn (Neville Brand), the leader of the riot, tells him that he wants the press to hear his demands. The motivation of the inmates is reform, not break-out. Initially the prisoners demand less overcrowding and a works program. But Commissioner Haskell (Frank Faylen), the governor's representative, wants no concessions and threatens to execute the ringleaders if the guards are not released. Early on the riot is confined to Cell Block 11 before it spreads to other prison areas, like the mess hall in Cell Block 4. There is continuous destruction and looting. When the state police arrive they force the rioters back into blocks although Cell Block 11, now with nine captured guards, holds out.

    With the help of an educated inmate, ex-army Colonel Vanna (Robert Osterloh) – who is serving time for manslaughter – the prisoners prepare their full demands in writing. They include: (1) remodeled Cell Block 11 with better lighting, (2) reduced overcrowding, (3) separation of the psychopaths from younger inmates, (4) removal of leg locks or chains, (5) instituting a program for teaching trades to convicts, (6) removal or chastisement of brutal guards, (7) improving the quality of food, and (8) no reprisals. Ironically the warden has generally pushed for the same reforms in the past, although the commissioner still refuses concessions. Meanwhile Dunn has some difficulty in keeping the prisoners in line as prisoner factions develop. When Dunn is wounded by a crazed convict, next-in- command "Crazy Mike" Carnie (Leo Gordon), a large and dominating man with much less balance than Dunn, takes control. The prisoners are divided whether to kill one or more of the guards as Haskell decides to blow up a portion of the cell block. The rioters fasten the captured guards up to the wall that is scheduled for demolishing, but just in time the governor and the warden sign the prisoner demands. Next day the morning newspaper headline screams, "Rioters Win!"

    Alas! There is a twist at the end. Not only does the state legislature repudiate the agreement, but also Dunn has to stand trial for inciting the riot and kidnapping the guards. He can get thirty years jail time. Colonel Vanna will get parole, and Carnie will be shipped off to a mental institution. The one saving grace for Dunn is the publicity emanating from the riot.

    Ironically, Producer Walter Wanger had served four months' time for attempted murder. He shot a man who was having an affair with his wife, actress Joan Bennett. With Director Don Siegel, he planed on making a movie that replicated the appalling conditions he witnessed during his confinement. He succeeded on a low budget, even though the main characters were not well-known at the time; real guards and convicts were even used as secondary characters. Note that domineering actor Leo Gordon was indeed an ex-con who served five years in San Quentin for armed robbery. Director Siegel even claimed, "Leo Gordon was the scariest man I have ever met." And that's about as genuine as a movie can get!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Film producer Walter Wanger (Cleopatra) had recently been released from prison, and with director Don Siegel (Dirty Harry, The Shootist) they made this film to portray the terrible conditions Wanger went through while incarcerated. Shot on location at Folsom State Prison, with real guards and prisoners in the background, the story sees prisoner James V. Dunn (BAFTA nominated Neville Brand) leading a revolt against the prison authorities. The prisoners want changes made to the conditions and routines of the prison, so they break out, taking a few guards hostage threatening their lives. They have made a document of negotiations for Warden Reynolds (Emile Meyer) and Commissioner (to be Senator) Haskell (Frank Faylen) to sign, and they will not give up until this has been done. Also starring Leo Gordon as Crazy Mike Carnie, Robert Osterloh as The Colonel, Paul Frees as Guard Monroe, Don Keefer as Reporter, Alvy Moore as Gator, Dabbs Greer as Schuyler, Whit Bissell as Guard Snader and James Anderson as Guard Acton. The film is very realistic with its portrayal of prison life and the inmates trying to gain control, and I'm sure it will keep people engaged. It was nominated the BAFTAs for Best Film from any Source. Very good!
  • Riot in Cell Block 11 comes as a bit of a shock, but not because of its brutality (it's a cuddly little puppy compared to Jules Dassin's Brute Force). The shock is that Don Siegel, later to become inextricably associated with such violent and/or reactionary movies as his remake of The Killers, Madigan and Dirty Harry, turned out a temperate, balanced and humane look at prison conditions; another shock is that the movie emerged in the middle of a complacent decade not remembered for its sympathy to marginalized groups in American society.

    The droning voice-over that opens the movie doesn't bode well: It warns of a wave of riots throughout penitentiaries across the country and even takes us to a criminal-justice convention in Toronto where the topic is aired. But soon we're inside Cell Block 11, part of a run-down, overcrowded institution whose warden (Emile Meyer) has been campaigning for reforms, to no avail. (Standing up for convicted criminals, then and now, is political suicide.) When opportunity knocks, the inmates take over the asylum. What they want is press coverage of their quite moderate demands: More elbow room, separate facilities for the mentally ill among them, job training. But they've taken guards as hostages, and threaten to execute them if their demands aren't met.

    Leader of the rebels is Neville Brand, who tries to negotiate in good faith, but Meyer has one hand tied behind his back – by Frank Faylen, a hard-line state bureaucrat. Brand, too, has trouble keeping the prisoners in line, particularly those who see the riot less as a cause than as a chance for some cheap thrills. Siegel manages to keep the story taut within the claustrophobic confines of the prison and without too much in the way of splashy incident, until he brings it to a surprisingly rueful end. Somehow, he has managed to make an issues movie told almost solely through action.

    Siegel's career proved that he had more sides to him than he's generally known for. He started out cutting montages in other directors' movies (Blues in the Night and The Hard Way among them); when he moved into directing, his early work showed range in style and tone: The period thriller The Verdict, the light-hearted noir The Big Steal, the eschatological drama Night Unto Night. Too bad we can't remember him by saying that he just got better and better, because, unfortunately, it just isn't so.
  • "Riot in Cell Block 11" is a very good, very tough prison movie. However, I should also warn you that it's also got a very strong and not especially subtle message...and could have been handled a bit less obviously. The producer had an axe to grind...and it's too obvious. On the other hand, it is a nice contrast to the usual evil jerks in prison film.

    When the film begins, there is a preachy prologue about prison riots and how they are the fault of the politicians and the people for allowing prisons to become that rotten. While to some extent this is true, the message come on about as subtly at a baseball bat against your skull. Then the film begins, a fictionalized account of prisoners rioting at a prison and the ineffectiveness and duplicitous nature of public officials in dealing with it. Again and again, the Warden advises for restraint and seems very much in agreement with most of the prisoners' demands...and time and again, the powers that be think the best way to handle the prisoners is to bluster and lie.

    So if the film comes off as a bit preachy, why do I still give it a 7 (and I was tempted to give it an 8)? Well, the acting is really terrific. Neville Brand is great as the prisoner in charge of the rioters and the rest of the actors did a really nice job. Had the message been toned down a tad, the film might have earned a 9.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    ***SPOILERS*** The movie was the brainchild of producer Walter Wagner who himself served time behind bars for shooting in the groin his wife actress Joan Bennett's lover press agent Jennings Lang. That's when he caught them red handed smooching in a parked car on December 13, 1951. Sentenced to only four month for attempted murder, he got a brake using the insanity defense, Wagner in the movie "Riot in cell-block 11" was to show the public what the US prison system really is. And how it turns those in it into even worse anti-social psychopaths then when when they first entered it!

    Things have being going from bad to worse for the inmates at San Quentin and it's a matter of time before the entire place is going to blow it's top. It's the civic minded Warden Reynolds, Emile Meyer, who wants to give the inmates a reason not to explode by making things a lot better for them. But it's the state that refuses to give him the funds he needs that had things get soon out of hand. It's the predatory and psychotic looking James V. Dunn, Neville Brand, who devises a plan to take over the prison with the help of his fellow inmates and hold it hostage, together with it's personnel, until the Governor Thomas Browne Henry agrees in writing to improve conditions there. A full scale riot breaks out with Dunn and his second in command the deranged and kill crazy gorilla-like "Crazy Mike" Craine, Leo Gordon, taking control of the cell-block together with the prison guards assigned there.

    ****SPOILERS*** As much as Warden Reynolds tries to prevent the violence from spreading into the other cell-blocks Dunn soon has the entire prison under his control with the national guard and state police, who in fact make things a lot worse, called in to quite things down. Warden Reynolds doesn't get any help from the state commissioner of prisons Haskell, Frank Feylen, who's more interested in using brute force instead of negotiations to settle things down with the inmates. As things later turned out Dunn & Co. got their way with Governor Henry finally giving into to their demands. In him making things better for those behind bars so when they get out they can blend in with society not go to war against it. It also turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory for both Dunn and the crazed and violence driven Crazy Mike Carnie who ended up with the short or sh*t end of the stick.

    In a way it was a double-cross on the state's part in hanging both Dunne and Crazy Mike Craine out to dry but Warden Reynolds in fact had nothing at all to do with it. But Dunn did get what he set out to do in making conditions better for those serving time in the states prisons but in his breaking the law ended up paying a steep price for doing it! P.S Check out the usually meek and mosey Whit Bissell acting against type as the brutal and sadistic prison guard, that everyone in the "Joint" just couldn't wait to get their hands around his neck, Mister, that he demands to be called,Seden.
  • It is a normal night in block 11 of the city jail. One prisoner calls a guard over to his cell for assistance but knocks him to the ground and grabs his keys. With the rest of the prisoners released one by one and the handful of block guards captured, ringleader Dunn demands the warden gets the press to the block. The plan is to expose the conditions and overcrowding that they live in, however negotiations between prisoners and the prison officials are slowed by the involvement of politicians as, in block 11, tensions build between the inmates.

    Based on the experiences of producer Walt Wanger it is no surprise that the strength of this film is its documentary-feel. It is gritty and does feel pretty realistic and for the most part this does carry the film along well and make for a solid drama. At times it is far too stagy and has some dialogue scenes that scream "message" as they make the points in very obvious ways. The drama unfolds well though, despite the occasionally clunky script, and the interplay between those at the coalface and those in political power is convincing, as is the range of attitudes within the group of convicts themselves.

    The acting isn't up to much, which is perhaps part of this being a low budget b-movie and they do struggle with the rather unnatural dialogue given to them at times. That said though, Brand does well as Dunn while Meyer's warden is solid if a little stiff. Faylen's politician is a bit too one dimensional to be of intelligent use but he serves his purpose. The support cast are mostly good wallpaper with turns from Gordon, Osterloh and others. Siegel directs with an eye for realism and grit, responsible for the film having an edge of realism.

    Overall then, a solid drama with a gritty documentary feel. It is a bit stagy and has unnatural dialogue at times but mostly it is good enough to cover these weaknesses.
  • Often on saturday night I've must to see routinelly a Noir picture despite just so few remains,to open my weekend's sessions, in this small picture Don Siegel used almost entirely the prision inmates to make it, also some guards too, as B-movie is plenty well done and how those riots always began trying to reveal all worst conditions in those so-called restoration places, the main matter that is, l'm totally outsoken over this crime's schools when all kind of the criminal are gathered without any discretion from the appropriate authorities, that a powerful message, an informative note very relevant are about two ex convicts as Leo Gordon that has go into by rear entrance and the producer Walter Wanger, impressive picture based in real facts by a visionary director!!!


    First watch: 2018 / How many: 1 / Source: DVD / Rating: 8.25
  • Here is a jail flick made in sympathy to the prisoners, not that this was so rare before criminals became much more violent in the 1960's. Fed up with the inhumane conditions within the penal system, the inmates rebel. A guard is knocked out and locked up, his keys used to free the other prisoners, and the jail is overtaken in short order. The scene where the prisoners yell and empty the contents of their cells everywhere makes for powerful cinematography.

    The prisoners make their demands known, and they want them printed in the papers for all the public to see. They want to be involved in a work program instead of sitting idle; they want the jail to be less crowded and better organized. If their needs are not met, guards will be killed, and the blame will be placed on the penal system authorities. The liberal warden of the prison actually wants to grant their demands, but his budget is constrained by politicians far removed from the system, and thus he is helpless as the clock ticks down.

    The film is non-stop excitement and drama. I liked seeing the relationship between the prisoners, and their roles in the revolt. Neville Brand, with a gravelly voice and a build like a Sherman tank, is perfectly cast as the group leader and negotiator.

    The movie is based on a story of an actual prison riot in the 1950s, and producer Walter Wanger's experiences as an inmate. Isn't it odd that celebrities get religion on the issue of prison reform AFTER they have been behind bars? Dan Rostenkowski comes to mind too.
  • Hook the 80-minutes to a generator and LA would light up for a week. Staging action at Folsom Prison replete with their convicts was a real coup. But the action is not meaningless or action for its own sake. Instead the raw physicality underlines sheer frustration and tactical maneuvering between fed-up cons and hamstrung officials. Prison conditions are woeful, while administrators have little money to fix them. So now there's a trash filled riot raining down. Still, it's the 1950's, so don't expect language or conduct that's too explicit

    Surprisingly, there are no heroes on either side, nor is anyone particularly likable. And thank goodness, movie stars were not hired for the leads. That would have gotten in the way of the message. Instead, it's a familiar if no-name cast. But Brand and Gordon are chillingly perfect in their tough-guy roles, while Meyer delivers subtly as the conflicted warden.

    Also, don't expect one side or the other to be vindicated. Instead, both are shown as on the receiving end of a John Q. Public that basically doesn't care what prison conditions are like or what it takes to maintain them. That's the movie's point—to alert the public of the time as to why prison riots occur. And also, to humanize the cons without sugar coating them.

    Essentially leaders on both sides act rationally given their aims and needs. (Except for Crazy Mike who should be institutionalized.) Director Siegel films in fairly straightforward style, putting camera emphasis where it belongs. On the whole, there may be more theatrical or bigger budget prison movies, e.g. Brute Force (1948). But none reveals more about dynamics between state, warden, guards, and cons. Besides it's a heckuva compelling movie despite the passing decades. And thanks producer Wanger for turning your own stint in jail into a public benefit.
  • I'm a massive fan of prison dramas which is reflected in OZ being my all time favourite American TV show . I guess the appeal lies in a type of smug voyeurism of wanting to see bad things happen to bad mens' bottoms , but I found Don Siegel's RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11 to be rather disappointing . Okay I knew since it was made in 1954 it would be devoid of bad language , graphic shankings and gang rape but even so it's a rather weak film compared to prison portrayal in earlier movies like EACH DAWN I DIE and WHITE HEAT . The problem lies in the preachy tone of the movie with riot leader Dunn being something of a prison reformer . Yeah that sounds ridiculous since he's a violent anti hero rather than some limp wristed tree hugging do gooder on a salary , but that's what he is in essence , he wants to see prisoners rehabilitated to rejoin society rather than being made to suffer . There's also a problem of making a B movie with such radical themes ( Quite ironic that Siegel would later make DIRTY HARRY where the only good criminal is a dead one ) and that is the cast isn't very good with Emile Meyer as the warder being especially irritating in his performance . like i said a disappointing movie
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A cast of familiar character actors make up prison staff, inmates, reporters and government flunkies. Brutal living conditions get the inmates in an uproar and without unnecessary plot in the way, the riot erupts immediately. This is how to tell stories like this with minimal female intrusion, and just men needing to do what they need to do to fix a horrible situation with brutal conditions. There is also the human angle with prison employees having to open their eyes to see what has lead to this day. Certainly there had been prison movies before but they softened the conditions and minimized the brutality.

    Among the cast in the huge ensemble are Neville Brand, William Schallert and Dabbs Greer who later played a retired prison guard looking back on his life in "The Green Mile". A brilliant script is aided with Don Siegel's fantastic direction, greatly influenced by what producer Walter Wanger had seen when he was in prison. Sltrady tense to begin with, this gets even more so as the film goes on. The film industry would greatly be influenced by these styles of filmmaking, a much needed transition as permissiveness opened up the story telling field to serious subjects like this.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The angry inmates in cell block 11 led by the shrewd and fearsome James V. Dunn (superbly played by Neville Brand) stage a riot in protest to the deplorable living conditions in the prison they are incarcerated in.

    Director Don Siegel's trademark mean'n'lean style works exceptionally well in both maintaining an uncompromisingly tough confrontational tone throughout and keeping the gripping story moving along at a brisk pace. The use of authentic Folsom Prison locations and actual guards and convicts as extras provides an utterly convincing sense of gritty realism. The hard-hitting script by Richard Collins likewise doesn't pull any punches, with the inmates drawn in a credible manner as not all of them get along and agree with one another about the riot. Moreover, the screenplay warrants extra praise not only for its admirable refusal to paint the criminals in a too sentimental light or provide any of them with needless back stories, but also for the surprising downbeat ending with Dunn winning the battle, yet still losing the war by having thirty years added to his sentence.

    The strong acting by an excellent cast of sturdy and refreshingly unglamorous character actors helps a whole lot, with especially stand-out work from Leo Gordon as the unstable and dangerous Crazy Mike Carnie, Emile Meyer as the sympathetic Warden Reynolds, Frank Faylen as the rigid and uncaring Commissioner Haskell, Whit Bissell as mean chief guard Snader, Robert Osterich as venerable felon The Colonel, and Paul Frees as nervous rookie guard Monroe. Don Keefer and William Schallert pop up in small roles as reporters. Kudos are also in order for Herschel Burke Gilbert's rousing score and Russell Harlan's stark black and white cinematography. An important and provocative film.