Cast & Crew
Edward L. Cahn
After five inmates of northern California's Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary volunteer for a dangerous medical experiment, they are transferred to a military hospital. The convicts, who have been promised their unconditional release upon completion of the test, are first injected with a metallic substance and then exposed to radioactive isotopes. The test, which will lead to a hoped-for cure for a fatal blood disease, is conducted without apparent incident. Later, however, one of the volunteers, racketeer Barry Morgan, grabs a pair of scissors that have fallen out of nurse Lt. Joan McKenna's pocket and stabs his best friend, Eddie Ganz, to death. After Morgan's violence is declared a side effect of the testing, the experiment is canceled, and Joan is forced to resign. That same day, a distressed Dr. Ross Williams, the creator of the test, arrives at the hospital and is introduced to Joan's wheelchair-bound brother Dick, who suffers from the fatal blood disease. Moved by Dick's encouraging words, Ross determines to investigate the Alcatraz experiment to deduce why it failed. Ross is baffled by Joan's description of Morgan's sudden fit of violence, and after asking Dr. J. P. Finley, the sympathetic administrator of the test, to delay the destruction of the isotopes, he pays a visit to Assistant District Attorney Walton. Although Walton insists that the case has been closed, he directs Ross to Morgan's casino. Morgan refuses to allow Ross to examine him, however, and is indifferent to the doctor's pleas for compassion. After Morgan arranges for him to win at the roulette wheel, Ross is beaten up by one of Morgan's thugs. Sure that Morgan is hiding something, Ross takes Joan to Alcatraz and questions inmate Max Henry, an acquaintance of Morgan and Ganz, about the convicts' friendship. Henry reveals that he, Morgan and Ganz were involved in an attempted escape at Leavenworth Penitentiary, and were sent to Alcatraz together. As Ross and Joan are about to leave the prison, Henry shows them his postcard collection, which includes a card from Lake Tahoe, addressed to Ganz and signed "Ethel." While Ross and Joan head for Tahoe, Morgan hears about their visit to Alcatraz and sends his partner, Duke Shaw, to trail them. In Tahoe, Ross and Joan find out from a real estate agent where the house pictured in Henry's postcard is located and where the owner, Ethel Ganz, works. When Ross tries to talk with Ethel, however, he is knocked out by Duke and two thugs and dumped in the woods. Later, while Ross telephones Finley to ask for another delay in the destruction of the isotopes, Joan tracks down Ethel. Ethel reveals to Joan and Ross that, before going to prison, Ganz, her stepfather, hid $250,000 in stolen money in their old summer house. After Ethel takes him to the remote house, Ross speculates that Morgan knew about the money and, as soon as he found out its location, killed Ganz. Suddenly drawing a gun on the doctor, Ethel confirms Ross's theory, adding that she found the money after months of searching. At that moment, Morgan arrives with his thugs and reveals that he is married to Ethel and that they plotted Ganz's murder together. Morgan tries to convince Ross to give up his pursuit, but Ross refuses to back down and is shot and killed by the ex-convict. Later, however, Finley tricks Morgan into exposing himself by pretending to radiate him with the isotopes and then accusing him of the crimes. When Morgan tries to strangle Finley in the hospital, he is caught by Walton, who, upon hearing of the phony test, arrests him for murder. With his research now verified, Ross is honored posthumously for his selfless courage, and Joan happily anticipates Dick's full recovery.
Edward L. Cahn
Edward L. Cahn
John R. Carter
George W. George
Orville H. Hampton
Jackson J. Rose
George F. Slavin
Experiment Alcatraz opens with stock footage of the exterior of the notorious island prison as an off-screen narrator intones, "that little stretch of water between Alcatraz and San Francisco is wider than the Pacific as far as the prisoners are concerned they're not going to cross it unless they die or serve their time." Modern science intervenes in the case of five volunteer inmates, however, who agree to submit themselves to a hazardous medical experiment in exchange for commuted sentences. The men are ferried off the island and brought to a nearby military hospital. There, Dr. J.P. Finley (Walter Kingsford) details the procedure they will undergo: they will be injected with a metallic salt, then given a dose of radiation from a radioactive isotope. Finley explains that the radiation "...converts the salt in your blood into millions of little depth charges that knock out certain microbes." With this treatment, the doctors hope to find a cure for blood diseases like leukemia. The inmates receive the treatment, but afterward Lt. Joan McKenna (Joan Dixon), a nurse, leaves a pair of scissors in the recovery room. One of the patients, Barry Morgan (Robert Shayne), appears to have an uncontrollable, violent reaction to the treatment he stabs one of the other inmates to death. A primary developer of the radiation therapy, Dr. Ross Williams (John Howard), arrives late from Oak Ridge in time to see Lt. McKenna relieved of duty and his project scuttled due to the reaction of Morgan to the treatment. The press latches onto the "Atom Ray Killing" while Williams and McKenna investigate the incident, suspecting that Morgan was committing murder and not suffering from the effects of radiation.
Director Cahn makes the most of the simple premise of Experiment Alcatraz, and the story takes an unexpectedly downbeat twist or two in its brief running time. Cahn began his career as an editor in the late 1920s, cutting such prestigious films as The Man Who Laughs (1928). In the mid 1930s he was signed as a shorts director at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and for the next decade he turned out several in the Crime Does Not Pay and Passing Parade series, and more notably, many of the post-Hal Roach Our Gang shorts. Switching to features he specialized in low-budget crime and mystery dramas, quickly making a descent from MGM to various "poverty row" and independent studios. In the mid-to-late 1950s Cahn landed at American International Pictures and other studios which specialized in drive-in fare. He directed dozens of movies during this period including "bad girl" pictures like Runaway Daughters (1956), Girls in Prison (1956), and Dragstrip Girl (1957); he was also responsible for many fondly-remembered horror and sci-fi films, such as The She-Creature (1956), Zombies of Mora Tau (1957), Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958).
Art Director Boris Leven was already a twelve-year veteran of the business when Cahn hired him for Experiment Alcatraz and for another crime picture made the same year, Destination Murder (1950). Leven would go on to art direct William Cameron Menzies' visually stunning Invaders from Mars (1953), and later move on to the more prestigious title of Production Designer. In this capacity, Leven worked on such films as Giant (1956), West Side Story (1961), and The Sound of Music (1965). For director Martin Scorsese, Leven designed The Last Waltz (1978), The King of Comedy (1982), and The Color of Money (1986).
Producer: Edward L. Cahn
Director: Edward L. Cahn
Screenplay: Orville H. Hampton; George W. George (story); George F. Slavin (story)
Cinematography: Jackson J. Rose
Art Direction: Boris Leven
Music: Irving Gertz
Film Editing: Philip Cahn
Cast: John Howard (Dr. Ross Williams), Joan Dixon (Lt. Joan McKenna), Walter Kingsford (Dr. J.P. Finley), Lynne Carter (Ethel Ganz), Robert Shayne (Barry Morgan), Kim Spalding (Duke Shaw), Sam Scar (Eddie Ganz), Kenneth MacDonald (Col. Harris), Dick Cogan (Dan Staley), Frank Cady (Max Henry), Byron Foulger (Jim Carlton - Realtor)
by John M. Miller
The working title of this film was Delayed Action. Credits on the viewed print differ from those in the cutting continuity, which was deposited with the copyright records on November 23, 1950. On the viewed print, Crystal Productions, Inc. is listed as copyright claimant, while in the Copyright Catalog and the cutting continuity, RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. is listed as claimant. The viewed print includes character names in the cast and credits for wardrobe, script supervisor and props. Makeup artist Ted Larsen's name was misspelled as Frank Larson in the cutting continuity, but was correctly spelled on the viewed print. Actor Lewis Martin's name, however, was correctly spelled in the cutting continuity, but was misspelled as "Louis" in the viewed print. On the viewed print, Joan Dixon's credit includes the adjoinder, "Courtesy RKO Radio Pictures, Inc," while composer Irving Gertz's credit is expanded to read "Music written and directed by." Voice-over narration opens and closes the film.
According to the Screen Achievements Bulletin, RKO purchased an original screenplay by George W. George and George F. Slavin, who stipulated in their contracts that their onscreen story credit read, "from a screenplay by." Although Hollywood Reporter lists Kippee Valez in the cast, her participation in the final film has not been confirmed. A July 27, 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that additional scenes featuring Lewis Martin were to be shot. No confirmation that those scenes were ever filmed has been found, however. Modern sources note that RKO bought Experiment Alcatraz from Crystal Productions for $100,000.