Cast & Crew
Harold J. Stone
Posing as husband and wife, Ruth Judlow and her brother-in-law Bill Judlow rent a house in the hills above the San Quentin Federal Penitentiary and prepare to free prisoner Arnie Judlow, Ruth's husband and Bill's twin brother. Arnie has devised a plan and sent instructions to Bill to assist in his escape. As they drive to the house with their supplies, Ruth admits that Arnie was intolerably possessive and violent. The ex-boxer is serving time for beating a man to death after the victim allegedly made sexual advances towards Ruth. After they arrive at the house, Ruth tells Bill about the prison schedule: At 4:00 p.m. the prisoners leave the textile mill and make their way from the industrial area back to their cells. Once all the prisoners are accounted for, the industrial wall is left unguarded. An uninterrupted beam of light from the prison's main beacon signifies that all prisoners are in their cells. If a prisoner is missing, the light flashes and the guards patrol the industrial area twenty-four hours a day until the prisoner is found. The day after Ruth and Bill's arrival, they hear a radio broadcast reporting that a guard attacked early in the week by an unidentified prisoner is still unconscious and unable to identify his assailant. Ruth and Bill know Arnie committed the crime and that if convicted of the assault, Arnie's life sentence will be converted to a death sentence. Later that night, neighbor Henry Nova, a guard at the prison, recognizes Ruth as a regular visitor. Bill introduces Ruth as his wife and explains that his brother is in San Quentin. After leaving Henry, Ruth and Bill decide to continue as planned even though Henry can now identify them. In the middle of the night, Ruth drives Bill to the industrial area wall. Throwing a hook onto the top of the wall, Bill pulls himself and his equipment safely into the prison and then hides in the crates outside the mill. The next day at 4:00 p.m. Arnie leaves the mill and surreptitiously switches places with his brother. As Arnie hides in the crate, Bill returns to the cellblock with the other prisoners. In the mess hall that evening, Bill lights up a cigarette, unaware that it is against regulations. After Bill's violation is written up, a suspicious Henry takes him outside and tells him he met his brother and his brother's wife. Late that night, Arnie climbs out of the crates, digs a rectangular hole near the wall, covers it with boards and grass sod and returns to the crates. The next morning, outside the mill, as Bill and Arnie switch places, Arnie viciously jokes that he could have escaped and left his brother in prison. That night, Bill pulls himself over the wall where Ruth is waiting in a car. After Bill carves a gun from a bar of soap the next morning, he reminisces with Ruth about his childhood. Despite his dreams of becoming an architect, his parents had only enough money to send Arnie, the brighter of the two, to college. Ruth tells him that Arnie dropped out of college to box, which lead to him using his fists as "deadly weapons" against other men. She regrets marrying him, explaining that his possessiveness caused him to kill, but Bill insists the crime was not her fault. That evening, Arnie sets a fire in the trashcan outside the mill after work to divert attention while he slips into the hole. When the beacon begins blinking after the count comes up short that night, Ruth drops Bill, now dressed in prison uniform on a road near the prison. After planting prison-issue cigarettes at an intersection, Bill pulls a gun on an unsuspecting driver, orders him out of the car and then drives away. When the driver reports the crime, the police find the San Quentin tobacco as well as Arnie's identity card and the hand-carved gun, the signature weapon of an escaped convict. That night, the beacon shines without blinking when the warden concludes that Arnie has escaped the prison grounds. When Ruth and Bill return to the house, they are met by Henry, who accuses Bill of switching places with his brother and deduces that Arnie will now try to escape. Bill offers Henry $5,000 to keep quiet, $2,500 up front and the rest later. Henry agrees but holds Ruth hostage while Bill gets the remaining money. Bill then goes to the prison to free his brother, but when they reach the other side of the wall, Henry is waiting with a gun. After Arnie beats Henry unconscious, Bill takes the money and gun and insists they let the guard go, explaining that Henry will not reveal their escape for fear of being jailed for withholding information. When they arrive at the house, Bill gives Arnie his car, the keys to an apartment and $2,500 to start a new life. When Ruth is reluctant to join Arnie, he assumes she and Bill have been having an affair and psychotically lashes out at both of them. When he finally calms down and apologizes, Arnie admits that Ruth cannot live with him on the run and leaves. Later that night, the warden sends a guard to escort Ruth and Bill to the prison where he tells them an anonymous caller described the crime in detail and stated that Bill assisted in Arnie's escape. The persuasive warden offers to clear Bill and Ruth of any charges if they tell him Arnie's location, warning that if the mentally unstable man is not apprehended he will soon kill again. In private, Ruth and Bill realize that Henry could not have provided the warden with the details of the crime and conclude that the caller was Arnie, who, cognizant that he cannot control himself, wants to be caught. Bill writes down Arnie's apartment address and hands it to the warden, who tells Bill that he has saved his brother from the gas chamber. The warden places a call, ordering that Arnie be taken alive.
Harold J. Stone
Harold E. Kleiforth
George J. Folsey
A. Arnold Gillespie
William A. Horning
Don M. Mankiewicz
John Mcsweeney Jr.
Dr. Wesley C. Miller
James E. Newcom
Edwin B. Willis
House of Numbers
The escape attempt which takes up the first half of House of Numbers is so convoluted and absurdly irrational that it does begin to look like the work of a madman - and rightly so. Arnie has been driven nutty by his confinement and begins to suspect that Bill and Ruth are having an affair (they aren't). Complicating matters is Bill and Ruth's next door neighbor Henry (Harold J. Stone) who just happens to work as a guard at the prison and turns out to be a slimy little blackmailer as well. Nothing goes as planned - does it ever in a prison escape film? - and the ending is so abruptly anticlimactic you'll think you missed something. We don't even get to see Arnie's final fate. But House of Numbers is less about the big breakout than an oddball showcase for Jack Palance's dual roles.
Even though Palance won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for sending up his own tough-guy image in City Slickers (1991), he has never been celebrated as an actor of great range. Usually he's played villains (Shane, 1953, Sudden Fear, 1952) or angst-ridden protagonists (The Big Knife, 1955 Attack!, 1956) but here he gets to play both. As Arnie, he combs his eyebrows differently, pitches his voice slightly higher and revs up the manic behavior complete with facial tics and a caged animal physicality. Bill, on the other hand, is always in a cold sweat, looking panic-stricken and guilty of some crime. There's not really much contrast between them but it's still fun to watch Palance playing doubles. He's not exactly what you'd call handsome but his skeletal-like facial features exert a certain fascination. (For those who don't know, Palance suffered severe burns when his bomber crashed in World War II and plastic surgery resulted in the face that launched his movie career.)
Although you wouldn't expect it for a B-movie, MGM assembled quite an impressive behind-the-camera team for House of Numbers. Director and co-scenarist Russell Rouse won an Oscar® nomination for The Well (1951), a study in mob psychology, and is best known for his contributions to the film noir genre: The Thief (1952), Wicked Woman (1953), New York Confidential (1955). Music composer/conductor Andre Previn has received numerous Academy Awards for his work over the years on such major films as Gigi (1958), Porgy and Bess (1959) and My Fair Lady (1964). And George Folsey was the innovative black and white cinematographer of Applause (1929) and such later MGM Technicolor hits as Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and Forbidden Planet (1956). Unfortunately, their combined efforts in House of Numbers didn't exactly wow the critics. The New York Times mirrored the opinions of many when it stated that "anybody who believes House of Numbers...will believe anything...Aside from the absurdities of the plot itself, Mr. Palance's wide-eyed, panting characterizations (both of them) should have alerted every guard on the premises at the very outset."
Even with Palance chewing the scenery in practically every scene, he is completely upstaged by veteran scene-stealer Timothy Carey (uncredited) in their one scene together. Carey, playing his weirdo cellmate, delivers a self-directed riff on doing time in his famous cliched-jaw, gritted-teeth acting style that made him so memorable in Elia Kazan's East of Eden (1955), Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956) and John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976).
Producer: Charles Schnee
Director: Russell Rouse
Screenplay: Jack Finney (novel), Don Mankiewicz, Russell Rouse
Cinematography: George J. Folsey
Film Editing: John McSweeney, Jr.
Music: Andre Previn
Cast: Jack Palance (Arnie Judlow/Bill Judlow), Harold Stone (Henry Nova), Edward Platt (The Warden), Barbara Lang (Ruth Judlow), Timothy Carey (Convict).
by Jeff Stafford
House of Numbers
Working titles for the film were The Pastel Penitentiary and The House of Numbers. In a scene preceding the opening credits for the film, prison inmate "Arnie" throws a guard over the railing outside a row of prison cells, causing the guard to fall several stories to the ground. This crime is alluded to throughout the story as the prison warden waits for the guard to regain consciousness and identify his attacker. In the opening credits for the film, a hand enters the screen and stamps the superimposed titles for each credit on the screen. The following statement also appears in the credits: "Grateful acknowledgement is made to the state of California Department of Corrections, Richard A. McGee, director; to Warden Harley O. Teets and to the officers and inmates of the San Quentin Prison who appear in House of Numbers." Following the opening credits, a voice-over narrator introduces the San Quentin Prison and the basic story line of the film.
According to a March 5, 1956 Hollywood Reporter article, M-G-M purchased Jack Finney's The Pastel Penitentiary in 1956 and assigned Pandro S. Berman to produce; however, Berman was later replaced by producer Charles Schnee. House of Numbers marked the motion picture debut of actress Barbara Lang. Portions of the film were shot at San Quentin Federal Penitentiary and areas near San Francisco.
Released in United States Fall September 1957
Released in United States Fall September 1957