Saturday, September 29, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Experiment Alcatraz (1950) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

EXPERIMENT ALCATRAZ (1950) is an odd yet entertaining "B" film available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

In this brisk 57-minute movie, five convicts incarcerated on Alcatraz Island, including Barry Morgan (Robert Shayne), are promised their freedom in return for participating in a potentially dangerous medical experiment. They're exposed to radiation as part of a study designed by Dr. Ross Williams (John Howard), who hopes to find a cure for leukemia.

Unfortunately the experiment seems to go haywire. Lt. Joan McKenna (Joan Dixon), an army nurse, accidentally leaves a pair of scissors in the hospital room and Morgan stabs to death one of other convicts, asserting the radioactive medical treatment caused his uncontrollable urge to kill. Or did it?

Nurse McKenna and Dr. Williams set out to discover the truth.

This film has several things going for it, not least its unusual plotting. The storyline is different, and the mashup of medical drama, crime film, and '50s era "nuclear sci fi" is enjoyable. There are also some surprises, for instance, just when you think Dr. Williams and Nurse McKenna might become an item...well, let's just say I was not expecting the last few minutes of the movie!

There's some terrific stock footage mixed with what appears to have been some new second unit filming in the San Francisco area. When the convicts are released from Alcatraz they're delivered to the Presidio -- right about where the building now housing the beautiful Walt Disney Family Museum is located!

John Howard (THE PHILADELPHIA STORY) plays the dedicated doctor who soons finds himself beaten up on a regular basis. Joan Dixon may not be the world's greatest actress but I find her a striking and enjoyable presence; I'm closing in on having seen all her feature films once I see a couple more Tim Holt Westerns.

Walter Kingsford, who played Dr. Carew in the Dr. Kildare movie series, is third-billed as Dr. Finley, who helps run the experiment and who is helpful when Dr. Williams needs time to try to prove radiation doesn't turn a man into a murderer. Kingsford's character actually takes on the most significant role in solving the mystery in the film's final minutes and does a fine job.

The cast also includes Lynne Carter, Harry Lauter, Kim Spalding, Kenneth MacDonald, Frank Cady, Byron Foulger, and Myron Healey.

EXPERIMENT ALCATRAZ was directed by Edward L. Cahn and filmed in black and white by Jackson Rose.

Those who have seen the movie may find a KCET article titled Alcatraz Island: A History of "The Rock" On Screen of interest.

EXPERIMENT ALCATRAZ is a very good DVD print. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Vienna said...

Just ordered it!

12:14 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

This movie is on youtube at the moment. The print looks great.

I must watch this, probably goes well together with my review on Split Second, another 50s nuclear movie.

10:32 AM  
Blogger John G. said...

I just re-watched this, plus Dixon's "Roadblock" and "Bunco Squad." I like her, wish she'd have made more movies.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Vienna, do let me know what you think!

Margot, I think it would be great paired with SPLIT SECOND. It definitely has a bit of an "atomic noir" vibe going for it. I'll look forward to reading your thoughts on one or both movies!

John, glad to know there's another Joan Dixon fan out there. I liked her in all of the movies you mention. She may not have a lot of dramatic range but she's a striking screen presence and I enjoy spending time with her films.

Best wishes,

11:19 PM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Split Second is the latest review on my blog. Roadblock is up next. :)

6:12 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

OK, just watched it. I'd say it's OK. As you said Joan Dixon is not the best actress, but hey she looks good. :) Though I'd go so far as saying she's no actress at all.

I too didn't expect the ending. Was obviously waiting for the happy one.

9:44 AM  

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