Duffy of San Quentin


1h 18m 1954
Duffy of San Quentin

Brief Synopsis

A biography of the experiences of San Quentin prison warden Clinton T. Duffy.

Film Details

Also Known As
The San Quentin Story
Genre
Drama
Crime
Release Date
Mar 13, 1954
Premiere Information
New York opening: 9 Feb 1954
Production Company
Berman-Swarttz-Doniger Production
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the serial story San Quentin Is My Home by Clinton T. Duffy, edited by Dean Jennings in The Saturday Evening Post (Mar--May 1950).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 18m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

At California's San Quentin Prison, rioting and other problems prompt the board of directors to fire the prison's top management and ask bookkeeper Clinton T. Duffy, a second-generation employee, to take over as warden for thirty days until a replacement can be named. With the encouragement of his wife Gladys, Duffy, who is dedicated to the prison and its men, accepts the position and immediately implements changes, such as better food. He abolishes solitary confinement and, to lessen the climate of betrayal and distrust, refuses to listen to information supplied by established stool pigeons, who inform on their fellow prisoners in return for favors. After forbidding abuse of the prisoners, Duffy fires the guards known for their inhumane treatment. Due to a contractual agreement, Duffy must give two months notice of dismissal to the cruel and corrupt guard captain, Pierson, who takes revenge by reporting Duffy's new practices to the prison's board of directors, hoping to get him removed. However, one of the directors, Boyd, stands behind Duffy, and Pierson is eventually terminated. Meanwhile, Edward "Romeo" Harper, a prisoner considered to be a troublemaker, is released from solitary confinement. The well-educated Romeo intrigues Duffy, as he seems too intelligent to have attempted to break the basic prison rules for which he is being punished. Although Pierson had claimed that Romeo was caught carving a knife out of a wooden toothbrush handle, Romeo claims he was carving a ring. To gain his trust, Duffy gives Romeo a knife and several toothbrush handles and later, Romeo presents Duffy with a wooden ring. Duffy's refusal to listen to informers makes him vulnerable to the impending breakout he knows is being planned by a small group of prisoners. Although Boyd warns him that he will lose his job if the escape succeeds, Duffy refuses to risk showing favoritism by changing his new policies. The break is attempted, but is quickly thwarted by Romeo and other prisoners who appreciate the improvements brought about during Duffy's tenure. Later, Romeo is assigned to work in the infirmary with three other prisoners. With Gladys' help, Duffy hires a female nurse, Anne Halsey, to take charge of the medical ward, as part of his reforms to build the men's morale. After her first attempts fail to gain the respect and trust of her subordinates, she nearly quits. However, she wins them over one by one, except for Romeo, who was betrayed by own his wife. Confused by his conflicting attraction for Anne and his distrust of all females, Romeo gets drunk while on night duty and gives the wrong injection to a patient. After inadvertently discovering Romeo's feelings for her, Anne takes responsibility for the incident and agrees to resign. The next day, the recovered Romeo learns about Anne's dismissal and confesses. Duffy, who watches from his window as Romeo convinces Anne to return to duty, realizes that Anne has been hiding her true feelings about Romeo. Later, Winant, the corrupt prosecutor who put Romeo and others unjustly behind bars, is convicted of bribing a witness and sentenced to time in the prison. To house Winant with the men he wronged would put his life in jeopardy, and Boyd warns Duffy that his job is in peril if anything happens to the lawyer. At first the arrogant Winant, who is planning his appeal, demands special treatment and flaunts his many political connections, confident that Duffy must ensure his physical safety. However, Duffy sees that the men interpret Winant's special protection as favoritism, and decides to stand on his principles. He assigns Romeo as Winant's cell-mate and bodyguard, which is risky, because Winant forced key witnesses to leave town in order to win Romeo's conviction, and Romeo has openly vowed revenge. When several prisoners plan Winant's assassination, Duffy senses the impending murder and alerts the guards. Anne rushes to Romeo's cell, admits that she loves him, and convinces him to stop the killing, so that he will someday be free and they can be together. Romeo then proceeds to where the prisoners have cornered the frightened Winant and fights to protect him. Although injured, Romeo manages to stall the would-be murderers until the guards arrive. Presuming that Romeo is part of the ambush, Duffy prepares to punish him, but Winant, reformed by Romeo's willingness to rescue him, speaks up and admits that Romeo saved his life. Wanting to right the wrongs he has committed, Winant asks Duffy for permission to set up a law office in the prison. Although Winant loses his own chance for an appeal of his case, by admitting his crimes against Romeo, he wins an acquittal for Romeo, who then marries Anne. Watching Romeo and Anne leave together, Duffy muses that, ironically, it is he who will never leave San Quentin.



Film Details

Also Known As
The San Quentin Story
Genre
Drama
Crime
Release Date
Mar 13, 1954
Premiere Information
New York opening: 9 Feb 1954
Production Company
Berman-Swarttz-Doniger Production
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the serial story San Quentin Is My Home by Clinton T. Duffy, edited by Dean Jennings in The Saturday Evening Post (Mar--May 1950).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 18m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White

Articles

Duffy of San Quentin -


Hollywood tough guy Paul Kelly did not need to do much research in order to play real life prison warden Clinton T. Duffy in Warner Bros.' Duffy of San Quentin (1954) - having been an inmate of San Quentin State Prison for two years. A child actor for Vitagraph in his native Brooklyn, Kelly transitioned easily to adult parts onscreen and onstage and was making gains in Hollywood until his affair with a married woman derailed a promising career. Charged with manslaughter in the aggravated (and ultimately fatal) assault of his lover's husband, Kelly spent twenty-five months of a ten year sentence behind bars. Produced and directed by Walter Doniger under the working title The San Quentin Story, Duffy of San Quentin is a fictionalized spin on the real life gains of reform warden Duffy, a prison secretary who was given temporary custodianship of San Quentin in 1940 but improved conditions so demonstrably that he was invited to stay on - and did, for eleven years. Duffy of San Quentin provided the aging Kelly with a rare starring role (though Louis Hayward would command top billing as a troubled convict), one he would reprise in Doniger's The Steel Cage (1954) that same year. Duffy of San Quentin also provided work for jobbing Georgia-born actor DeForest Kelley, later Star Trek's Dr. "Bones" McCoy.

By Richard Harland Smith
Duffy Of San Quentin  -

Duffy of San Quentin -

Hollywood tough guy Paul Kelly did not need to do much research in order to play real life prison warden Clinton T. Duffy in Warner Bros.' Duffy of San Quentin (1954) - having been an inmate of San Quentin State Prison for two years. A child actor for Vitagraph in his native Brooklyn, Kelly transitioned easily to adult parts onscreen and onstage and was making gains in Hollywood until his affair with a married woman derailed a promising career. Charged with manslaughter in the aggravated (and ultimately fatal) assault of his lover's husband, Kelly spent twenty-five months of a ten year sentence behind bars. Produced and directed by Walter Doniger under the working title The San Quentin Story, Duffy of San Quentin is a fictionalized spin on the real life gains of reform warden Duffy, a prison secretary who was given temporary custodianship of San Quentin in 1940 but improved conditions so demonstrably that he was invited to stay on - and did, for eleven years. Duffy of San Quentin provided the aging Kelly with a rare starring role (though Louis Hayward would command top billing as a troubled convict), one he would reprise in Doniger's The Steel Cage (1954) that same year. Duffy of San Quentin also provided work for jobbing Georgia-born actor DeForest Kelley, later Star Trek's Dr. "Bones" McCoy. By Richard Harland Smith

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working title of the film was The San Quentin Story. Voice-over narration of Paul Kelly as "Warden Clinton T. Duffy" is heard intermittently throughout the film. Duffy reminisces about his relationship with prisoner Edward Harper, which he claims best exemplifies his tenure there. Paul Kelly's opening credit reads: "Paul Kelly as Warden Clinton T. Duffy."
       Duffy, who was born in 1898, the son of a San Quentin guard, worked in several positions at the prison before 1940, when he was asked to fill a thirty-day appointment as warden after a major staff turnover. He began immediately to abolish inhumane practices and make the prison more bearable for the inmates, whom he believed needed an opportunity to turn their lives around. Shortly after taking the assignment, Duffy fired the cruel captain of the guards, arranged for better food and fresh water, and forbade the use of the "Dungeon," an unfurnished, unlit cave used for solitary confinement. Although he insisted on discipline from the inmates, the changes he made won their respect and cooperation, thus noticeably altering the explosive atmosphere of the prison and earning him permanent status as warden. With the assistance of his wife Gladys, whose father, another prison guard, once told Duffy that men could not be reformed with a whip, Duffy pushed for greater innovations, such as educational opportunities, in-house entertainment and religious services for the men. In 1951, he retired as warden, but remained active in penological pursuits; both he and Gladys wrote books about their experiences.
       According to a December 1952 Daily Variety news item, the film was to be released by United Artists, but by November 1953, a Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Warner Bros. had acquired distribution rights. The film marked writer Walter Doniger's directorial debut. According to a February 1954 Variety news item, actress Joanne Dru sued Swarttz-Doniger Productions, Inc., Warduff Productions, Inc., and Warner Bros. for ten percent of the producers' gross of the film, claiming that, although her contract stated that she would be paid $1,000 in cash and a percentage for her performance in the film, she was paid only the cash. The outcome of the dispute has not been determined.
       Modern sources state that Kelly, a former child actor for Vitagraph silent films, spent two years in San Quentin Prison in the 1920s for manslaughter. Kelly and, briefly, Maureen O'Sullivan reprised their roles in The Steel Cage, a 1954 United Artists release of three vignettes originally planned as a television serial. For more information, see the entry for The Steel Cage below.