While the warden is away, the inmates of the isolation block break out out of their cells and seize a group of guards and administrators as hostages. Caught, by pure chance, in the wrong place at the wrong time, is Jim Brown, whose sentence is short enough that he wouldn’t choose to become involved. However, before he knows it, he is, along with Gene Hackman, leading the riot. The ruckus is, in fact, a cover for an escape attempt: the inmates are digging a tunnel while, as a stalling tactic, Hackman presents a list of grievances to the authorities. But even as Brown becomes more and more enmeshed in the running of the operation, Hackman becomes more and more engaged with the protest, forgetting that it is supposed to be a charade.
Nice, gritty jailhouse piece, shot entirely at the Arizona State Penitentiary, and featuring not only plenty of real inmates, but the actual warden playing the warden of fictional prison. As one would expect of a film starring both Brown and Hackman, the characters are a tough lot, and the action is brutal. Characterizations are strong, with even the minor figures clearly defined. The only false note is sounded by the clumsy pseudo-Johnny Cash prison song that thuds against the ears several times over the course of the film. Otherwise, this is a bone-crunching good time, and is another example (along with Rosemary’s Baby) of how different films merely produced by William Castle were from the films he actually directed himself.
As with many, many releases of an older vintage (1969 in this case), the opening credits are the roughest patch of the print, with noticeable grain and dirt, and other little bits of damage. While there are still a few blemishes (mainly in the form of minor grain now) to be had afterwards, the print is in pretty fine shape once the credits are over. The colours are strong, flesh tones and blacks are excellent, and the image is sharp and very, very sweaty. The original 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio is preserved.
Just the original mono here, but a very nice mono it is. There is no hiss at all, the dialogue is crisp and clean, and the tone is warm. The music, whatever one might think of it, has a solid bass to it. All in all, one barely notices that this isn’t stereo.
Tough, lean, mean and smart. If you’re in the mood for a good prison-break movie, there’s absolutely no way of going wrong with this piece.