HARD-BOILED FAVORITES

Five Great Prison Noirs

The jig is up—you love film noir. Watch these classics with someone who’ll serve as a credible alibi. 

EACH DAWN I DIE (1939)

Warner Bros.
Director: William Keighley
The most noir of all Jimmy Cagney’s 1930s prison films. (His character has been framed, naturally.) No frills, no theatrics. Tough.

"Brute Force" movie poster

BRUTE FORCE (1947)

Universal-International
Director: Jules Dassin
Prison, Hollywood-style. From the pressbook: “THE MEN ON THE INSIDE! THE WOMEN ON THE OUTSIDE! SCORCHING AS A BLOW-TORCH!”

"The Story of Molly X" movie poster

THE STORY OF MOLLY X (1949)

Universal-International
Director: Crane Wilbur
Wilbur, an intriguing movie man (he starred opposite Pearl White in The Perils of Pauline), made a dozen prison films, and this one is the best. It was filmed on location in San Francisco and Tehachapi’s California Institution for Women.

"Riot in Cell Block 11" movie poster

RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11 (1954)

Allied Artists
Director: Don Siegel
Producer Walter Wanger wanted to “tell it like it is,” having served a prison jolt of his own for shooting his wife’s suspected lover. Director Siegel noted: “The prisoners just fight for better conditions. The warden is honest, he listens, but he is beaten by the system.”

WOMEN’S PRISON (1955)

Columbia
Director: Lewis Seiler
Crane Wilbur wrote this picture—and didn’t skimp on sexuality. One prisoner gets knocked up, and the warden (Ida Lupino) can’t prop up the walls separating men and women behind bars.

Read more from Alta‘s Fall 2020 Noir Special Section

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