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Monday, September 8, 2014

BIG HOUSE, U.S.A.

There’s a veritable convention of classic tough guys in this prison break pic: fast-talking, diesel-powered Broderick Crawford; lumbering Lon Chaney, Jr.; creepy/crafty William Talman (the lawyer who kept losing to Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason), and the hovering, musclebound, shirtless menace of Charles Bronson. But patience, please; we don’t meet these threatening boys till the second act, when Ralph Meeker’s icy, compassion-free kidnapper gets sent up on a lesser charge. Howard Koch, before he become a respectable producer @ Paramount, directed this low-budget sludge-fest with an eye toward violent sensationalism that helps make up for his many deficiencies in staging, pacing and . . . well, in just about everything! And while the era didn’t allow for today’s on-screen depiction of mayhem & gore, the level of sadistic brutality, casual violence & cold-blooded murder might impress Quentin Tarantino. Heck, if everybody wasn’t dead at the end of this one, you might pull out an alternate cast for RESERVOIR DOGS/’92.

DOUBLE-BILL: The granddaddy of prison break pics, THE BIG HOUSE/’30, shows it’s early Talkie age, but in a good way, with smash perfs from Wallace Berry, Chester Morris & a callow Robert Montgomery under George W. Hill’s remarkably fluid helming. (Or, as mentioned above, RESERVOIR DOGS.)

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