by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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While the warden (real-life warden Frank A Eyman) of a state prison is away, the isolation block erupts and 35 of the most violent criminals stage a riot and take over their portion of the prison. Cully Briston (Jim Brown), in for five years and awaiting his eventual parole, wants no part of the riot. He impulsively gets involved, defending a prison guard and protecting him from the maniacs on the block.
This tense drama is based on a Frank Elli novel, which chronicled an actual riot that took place in a Minnesota prison. A prison break is planned as knives, slash, fits fly and blood is spilled.
Brown is oozing so much Jim Brown in Riot that I could hardly contain myself. Riot is a movie, which was first released in 1968 and also stars Gene Hackman as the ring leader.
The inmates are fed up and looking for any way to get out of jail fast. After an orchestrated plan coordinated by Hackman and Brown, they can almost smell freedom, even as media converge on the facility. But they were slightly off in their calculations as the warden, who had gone on vacation, returns and takes matters and the security of the prison into his own hands.
What is a bit haunting is the song, 100 Years performed by Bill Medley, which constantly plays throughout the film. The endeavor isn’t all lost, but many lives are lost, as the prisoners wiggle themselves out of a secret tunnel only to be gunned down, one by one.
Riot is a good, vintage film about brotherhood in a prison, and it was good to see the contrast between what would now be considered ancient by prison standards.
Riot is directed by the same guy who did Brian’s Song, Buzz Kulik. It is available Feb. 8 on DVD from Olive Films. Visit www.olivefilms.com.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.
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