Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tonight's Movie: San Quentin (1946)

SAN QUENTIN is an enjoyable, if sometimes improbable, RKO film starring perennial bad boy Lawrence Tierney.

Tierney plays Jim Roland, an ex-con who receives a pardon after serving in World War II. He plans to marry Betty (Marian Carr) and run a service station.

Jim had been part of a San Quentin prison welfare league instituted by the kindly warden (Harry Shannon) to help turn men's lives around. While it worked for Jim, Nick Taylor (Barton MacLane) just pretends to go along with the program. When Taylor and Tommy North (Robert Clarke) join the warden and Jim to give a speech about the welfare league, Taylor engineers a violent escape.

Jim and his pal Broadway (Joe Devlin) decide it's up to them to catch Nick. Their every move is trailed by Detective Schaeffer (Richard Powers, previously known as cowboy star Tom Keene).

This movie is plenty hokey at times, including a stilted prologue by former Sing Sing Warden Lewis E. Lawes, yet despite that -- or because of it -- I enjoyed it. Tierney is always a compelling screen presence, and I enjoy seeing him as a hero (STEP BY STEP, BODYGUARD), as much or more than seeing him as a super-scary bad guy (DILLINGER, BORN TO KILL).

Despite the preachiness and lack of realism, the film presents an interesting look at different schools of thought on the prison environment and what it should accomplish, as well as providing a brief peek at life behind bars in San Quentin. Incidentally, I wonder how many movies used this movie's back projection of a prison workshop?!

There's also a charming Golden Gate Bridge back projection, as well as location filming on a lake in the L.A. County Arboretum.

The movie is also notable as the second credit of a young, thin, Raymond Burr.

SAN QUENTIN runs just 66 minutes. It was directed by Gordon Douglas and filmed by Frank Redman.

SAN QUENTIN isn't out on DVD, but it's shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.


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