Ultra-tough prison meller shows its age in some sound-bite bromides on inmate sociology (quick-fix remedies via meals, guards, isolating psychos), but with dead-on casting & razor-sharp action staging from director Don Siegel in a great early credit, it's terse & effective all the way thru. Filmed by Russell Harlan in a god-sent location, an unused, slab-like maximum security unit at Folsom Prison, the film jumps to life after a brief documentary set-up, walking us thru a bit of lock-up routine. Prisoners down for the count with each clang of a cell-bolt. The riot that soon breaks out is meant as a principled stand, but soon spins out of control, spreading to other units with alarming speed; a domino effect perfectly handled by Siegel working on all cylinders. And look for a stunning sequence with hostages tied to a pipe along a wall that’s been prepped with dynamite to blow. Those hostages make for a Goya-worthy composition. Great (anti) poetic-justice ending, too, followed by a perfect, brusque tracking-shot out.
DOUBLE-BILL: Siegel went back to prison for one of his best late efforts, his last Clint Eastwood pic, ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ/’79.