Don Siegel's trademark violence and near-documentary realism are already on display in the excellent noir from his early career. Richard Collins' carefully researched script takes pains to sidestep prison movie clichés, focusing instead on some of the issues that had struck producer Wanger during his brief prison hitch. Rather than planning to break out, the inmates' riot is based on well-founded demands for reforms that the warden Emile Meyer already agrees with. The warden himself is a humane figure rather than a tyrant, who, like the sharp convict Neville Brand leading the protest, does his utmost to avoid the use of force. Siegel allows events to unfold credibly, as the convicts' plan escalates from seizing some guards to the anarchic frenzy of a full-scale prison riot. The film avoids melodramatic stereotyping, painting characters on both sides of the conflict with surprising complexity. In a way that is rare in films, but common in the work of Siegel, the characters are forced to accept the coefficient of adversity forced upon them by their roles, and no one ever gets exactly what they want. Among a fine cast, Brand, Meyer, Frank Faylen, Robert Osterloh, and former real-life inmate Leo Gordon stand out, and the film's realism is heightened by the crisp black-and-white photography of Russell Harlan.
by Michael Costello review