Cast & Crew
In the late 1930s, a new state administration brings about reforms which send college professor and psychologist Dr. "Doc" Wilson to Harbor State prison to conduct aptitude tests on prisoners. Although naïve and inexperienced, Doc nevertheless rejects Warden George Potter's request that he inform on the prisoners, explaining that his work will be useless without the men's trust. Potter scoffs at Doc's plans and places him on a six-month probationary period to complete his study. While getting settled, Doc meets former safecracker and inmate James Connie, who surprises him by knowing all about his purpose at the prison. The prison's head physician, Dr. Gordon, informs Doc that there is no additional staff available to assist him and he will have to use convicts to help conduct his tests. That afternoon in the courtyard, Punch Pinero, a murderer convicted of tax fraud, asks Connie why he has not placed an insider in Doc's office yet, but Connie, who has already stolen a booklet about Doc's test, reveals nothing. A group of convicts are assembled and presented to Doc to take the first battery of tests, but when Doc dismisses the guards, the prisoners immediately grow unruly, halting the test and leaving Doc angry. After the fracas, Connie arranges to have himself transferred on work detail, knowing he will be sent to Doc for evaluation, and then volunteers to be Doc's "chief of staff." Connie smugly agrees to take Doc's test first, only to discover that Doc is using a different test standard than the one he stole. Over the next couple of months Doc makes little progress, but is determined to try another mass testing with an appropriate staff. Trying to impress the prisoners, Doc walks across the courtyard one afternoon without a guard, and is threatened by Punch. Steve Kopac, a mild-mannered embezzler, interrupts to ask Doc if he can work for him, and despite Punch's warnings, Doc accepts Kopac. Ruffled, Punch then presents himself to Doc as another staff member and agrees to take Doc's test. Doc believes he can now attempt another testing and is satisfied when, during the evaluation, Punch bullies the men into submission. Doc notices that Blivens Scott, a drunk and thief, is a talented artist and asks him to join his staff. A couple of weeks later Doc finds thief Clem Randall with Punch and recruits him for his staff, as well as convicted murderer Dawson, despite Punch's wariness. As Doc's prepares the results of his testing for presentation to the board, the prisoners become excited while gambling on a baseball game, which features Scott as the ace pitcher. Unknown to Doc, Punch is providing Scott with bootlegged alcohol and when in a drunken stupor Scott ruins a graph central to Doc's presentation, Doc insists he redo the graph in spite of the game. The prisoners are furious and Punch organizes a prison-wide protest that threatens to turn into a riot, until Doc asks Potter for permission to speak to the men without guards. Connie demands the men listen to Doc, who assures them that he has not told Potter the reason why he is keeping Scott from the game. A short time afterward, Kopac is released early for good behavior. Randall then has an emotional outburst and is knocked out by Dawson. When Randall revives, he is mute and Doc treats him with hypnosis and discovers that Randall misses his wife deeply. Although Doc tries to stop Randall from further revelations, Randall admits that Dawson is leading a breakout plan, in which Doc is to be used as a shield. Doc has Randall forget his confession and refrains from reporting the information to Potter. Later, after Doc discovers his office has been bugged, Connie admits the men wanted to know if they could trust him. Connie and Punch then arrange an elaborate plan to smuggle Randall's wife in for a visit, without Doc's knowledge. A few days later, Connie is asked to assist in opening a bank safe and demands a suit, ten dollars and one day of freedom as payment, which Doc approves. Despite Potter's misgivings, Connie returns at the end of his liberty. Kopac also returns, having broken parole in order to be sent back to the safety of prison. On the day of the scheduled breakout, an armed Dawson proceeds as planned, but when Randall, Connie and Punch ask the others about participating, they refuse to take part. Dawson persists, making the prison dentist, Dr. Brint, the hostage when the others defend Doc. As Dawson and several other convicts attempt to make their break, a shootout with the guards erupts and Kopac is killed. Later, Doc stands up for his men with Potter and none are prosecuted. Doc's probation period comes to a successful conclusion, and a new psychologist is sent to take his place. On his final day Doc bids his staff farewell and is saddened when Connie does not appear. Outside the prison, however, Connie strolls up to a startled Doc with keys to a car for which the men all contributed and complains about having to train the new psychologist.
H. George Stern
Shirley C. Mills
My Six Convicts
According to Kramer's autobiography, the message of My Six Convicts (1952), his second film at Columbia, was "If we improve our treatment of criminals, their behavior will correspondingly improve." It was based on Donald Powell Wilson's best-selling memoir of working at Leavenworth Prison in the early 1930s, conducting a study on the relationship between drug addiction and crime. In the film, the psychiatrist (John Beal) works at "Harbor State Prison," located in a picturesque harbor very much like San Francisco Bay, and the subject of the doctor's study is less specific than in Wilson's book. Instead, the focus of the film is the details and language of prison life, and on "Doc's" relationships with the six inmates who become his assistants.
Kramer writes in his autobiography that he was attracted to the subject matter when he chose to do My Six Convicts, but he was also looking for a hit, after the box office failure of Death of a Salesman. At the time, prison films were popular, so he thought the movie would combine both his commitment to his liberal principles, and his desire for an exciting, popular story. "I knew there would be no starring roles...and not enough money in the budget to hire stars," he recalled. "The subject was the only real attraction we had going for us." Harry Cohn did not agree. Because there was no real violence in My Six Convicts, Cohn scoffed, "That's the most unexciting film I've ever seen."
My Six Convicts had no major stars - the biggest name was Gilbert Roland, whose days as a leading man were long past - but did boast an excellent cast of character actors. John Beal had been playing decent young men since the 1930s, when he had his most important part, the title role in The Little Minister (1934), opposite Katharine Hepburn. Roland, a romantic matinee idol since the silent days, plays a smart, tough Italian mob boss. Millard Mitchell plays a shrewd and genial safecracker with an uncanny knowledge of what goes on in and out of prison -- he is the doctor's guide to prison life. The same year My Six Convicts was released, Mitchell played the role for which he's probably best remembered, the genial studio boss in Singin' in the Rain (1952). Harry Morgan, who would become a beloved film and television comic actor in series such as December Bride (1954-59) and M.A.S.H. (1974-83), plays the most evil of the convicts, the psychotic Dawson. The other three convicts are played by Alf Kjellin, a Swedish actor who had appeared in several early Ingmar Bergman films, and who would himself become a director; Marshall Thompson, a popular juvenile in the 1940s, who starred in the TV series Daktari in the 1960s; and Jay Adler, brother of theater stars Stella Adler and Luther Adler.
Kramer was not yet directing, so he chose Argentine-born director Hugo Fregonese, who had done mostly B-westerns and crime dramas. My Six Convicts would be one of Fregonese's best films. Kramer got permission to shoot on location at San Quentin for nine days, although he was not allowed to film any real prisoners. But they were always around, observing, and one day, one of them tried to escape by mingling with the film crew as they left. He was not successful. The exposure to real-life criminals, while disconcerting, also informed the performances of the movie prisoners.
My Six Convicts received excellent reviews. According to the New York Times, "penology, psychology, and crime have been blended into a compassionate, thoughtful, incisive, and, above all, genuinely humorous account of life behind prison walls." Other reviews questioned some of the film's inventions, and the emphasis on comedy, but praised the subject matter and performances. However, Harry Cohn's instincts were correct and it was not the box-office hit Kramer had hoped for. Kramer made nine more films under his Columbia contract, all but one of them box-office failures, and in 1954, he and Cohn mutually agreed to end their five-year contract early. But Kramer went out in a blaze of glory. His final film at Columbia, an adaptation of Herman Wouk's best-selling novel, The Caine Mutiny (1954) had color, big stars, a bigger budget, and big box office. It made $11 million in profits, wiping out Kramer's losses on his previous Columbia films. He returned to independent filmmaking, began directing, continued to make films that combined entertainment and liberal ideology, and became one of the most respected and admired filmmakers in Hollywood.
Director: Hugo Fregonese
Producer: Stanley Kramer
Screenplay: Michael Blankfort, based on the book by Donald Powell Wilson
Cinematography: Guy Roe
Editor: Gene Havlick
Art Direction: Edward L. Ilou
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Millard Mitchell (James Connie), Gilbert Roland (Punch Pinero), John Beal (Doc), Marshall Thompson (Blivens Scott), Alf Kjellin (Clem Randall), Harry Morgan (Dawson), Jay Adler (Steve Kopac), Regis Toomey (Dr. Gordon), Fay Roope (Warden Potter).
by Margarita Landazuri
My Six Convicts
TCM Remembers Charles Bronson - Sept. 13th - TCM Remembers Charles Bronson this Saturday, Sept. 13th 2003.
Turner Classic Movies will honor the passing of Hollywood action star Charles Bronson on Saturday, Sept. 13, with a four-film tribute.After years of playing supporting roles in numerous Western, action and war films, including THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960, 8 p.m.) and THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967, 1:15 a.m.), Bronson finally achieved worldwide stardom as a leading man during the late 1960s and early 1970s. TCM's tribute will also include THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963, 10:15 p.m.), Bronson's second teaming with Steve McQueen and James Coburn, and will conclude with FROM NOON TILL THREE (1976, 4 a.m.), co-starring Jill Ireland. TCM will alter it's prime-time schedule this Saturday, Sept. 13th. The following changes will take place: 8:00 PM - The Magnificent Seven (1960)
10:15 PM - The Great Escape (1963)
1:15 AM - The Dirty Dozen (1967)
4:00 AM - From Noon Till Three (1976) Charles Bronson, 1921-2003
Charles Bronson, the tough, stony-faced actor who was one of the most recognizable action heroes in cinema, died on August 30 in Los Angeles from complications from pneumonia. He was 81.
He was born Charles Buchinsky on November 3, 1921 in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania, one of fifteen children born to Lithuanian immigrant parents. Although he was the only child to have graduated high school, he worked in the coalmines to support his family until he joined the army to serve as a tail gunner during World War II. He used his money from the G.I. Bill to study art in Philadelphia, but while working as a set designer for a Philadelphia theater troupe, he landed a few small roles in some productions and immediately found acting to be the craft for him.
Bronson took his new career turn seriously, moved to California, and enrolled for acting classes at The Pasadena Playhouse. An instructor there recommended him to director Henry Hathaway for a movie role and the result was his debut in Hathaway's You're in the Navy Now (1951). He secured more bit parts in films like John Sturges' drama The People Against O'Hara (1951), and Joseph Newman's Bloodhounds of Broadway (1952). More substantial roles came in George Cukor's Pat and Mike (1952, where he is beaten up by Katharine Hepburn!); Andre de Toth's classic 3-D thriller House of Wax (1953, as Vincent Price's mute assistant, Igor); and De Toth's fine low-budget noir Crime Wave (1954).
Despite his formidable presence, his leads were confined to a string of B pictures like Gene Fowler's Gang War; and Roger Corman's tight Machine Gun Kelly (both 1958). Following his own television series, Man With a Camera (1958-60), Bronson had his first taste of film stardom when director Sturges casted him as Bernardo, one of the The Magnificent Seven (1960). Bronson displayed a powerful charisma, comfortably holding his own in a high-powered cast that included Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen. A few more solid roles followed in Sturges' The Great Escape (1963), and Robert Aldrich's classic war picture The Dirty Dozen (1967), before Bronson made the decision to follow the European trail of other American actors like Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. It was there that his hard, taciturn screen personae exploded in full force. In 1968 alone, he had four hit films: Henri Verneuil's Guns for San Sebastian, Buzz Kulik's Villa Rides, Jean Herman's Adieu l'ami which was a smash in France; and the classic Sergio Leone spaghetti Western Once Upon a Time in the West.
These films established Bronson as a huge box-office draw in Europe, and with some more stylish hits like Rene Clement's Rider on the Rain (1969), and Terence Young's Cold Sweat (1971) he soon became one of the most popular film stars in the world. It wasn't easy for Bronson to translate that success back in his homeland. In fact, his first few films on his return stateside: Michael Winners' Chato's Land, and The Mechanic (both 1972), and Richard Fleischer's Mr. Majestyk (1973), were surprisingly routine pictures. It wasn't until he collaborated with Winner again for the controversial Death Wish (1974), an urban revenge thriller about an architect who turns vigilante when his wife and daughter are raped, did he notch his first stateside hit. The next few years would be a fruitful period for Bronson as he rode on a wave of fine films and commercial success: a depression era streetfighter in Walter Hill's terrific, if underrated Hard Times (1975); Frank Gilroy's charming offbeat black comedy From Noon Till Three (1976, the best of many teamings with his second wife, Jill Ireland); Tom Gries tense Breakheart Pass; and Don Siegel's cold-war thriller Telefon (1977).
Sadly, Bronson could not keep up the momentum of good movies, and by the '80s he was starring in a string of forgettable films like Ten to Midnight (1983), The Evil That Men Do (1984), and Murphy's Law (1986, all directed by J. Lee Thompson). A notable exception to all that tripe was John Mackenzie's fine telefilm Act of Vengeance (1986), where he earned critical acclaim in the role of United Mine Workers official Jack Yablonski. Although he more or less fell into semi-retirement in the '90s, his performances in Sean Penn's The Indian Runner (1991); and the title role of Michael Anderson's The Sea Wolf (1993) proved to many that Bronson had the makings of a fine character actor. He was married to actress Jill Ireland from 1968 until her death from breast cancer in 1990. He is survived by his third wife Kim Weeks, six children, and two grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
TCM Remembers Charles Bronson - Sept. 13th - TCM Remembers Charles Bronson this Saturday, Sept. 13th 2003.
Psychologist Donald Powell Wilson's non-fiction book, My Six Convicts, was purportedly a record of his personal experiences at Fort Leavenworth penitentiary in Kansas. A Daily Variety news item indicates that Stanley Kramer purchased the book shortly after its publication and assigned former RKO unit producer Val Lewton as the film's producer. Lewton died of a heart attack one month after taking up his duties and the film was reassigned to the husband and wife associate production team of Edna and Edward Anhalt.
According to a Daily Variety news item, Kramer discovered that Wilson's book had been partially ghostwritten by screenwriter Eve O'Dell and several incidents in it were fabricated, forcing him to drop a planned authentic documentary tone for the film. According to Hollywood Reporter, Helmut Dantine turned down a part in the film. Hollywood Reporter also notes that one week of location shooting took place in northern California at San Quentin prison. Kramer's autobiography indicates that San Quentin guards were used as extras, but no inmates were allowed to participate in the production. The film deliberately leaves the exact location of the prison unspecified. Millard Mitchell recreated his role as "Connie," Dana Andrews portrayed "Doc" and Sheldon Leonard was "Punch" on the Lux Radio Theatre October 20, 1952 broadcast version of My Six Convicts. According to a November 5, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, a Broadway adaptation of the story was in preparation and was to star Carleton Carpenter, but that production did not come to fruition.