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Lloyd Bacon
Pat O'Brien, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, Barton MacLane, Joe Sawyer, James Robbins, Veda Ann Borg, Joe King
Writing Credits:
John Bright (story), Humphrey Cobb, Peter Milne, Robert Tasker (story)

Out Of The "Pen" ... Into The Jaws Of Death!

Do the crime, do the time. But what happens during the long years spent behind the walls of San Quentin? The penitentiary's new yard captain wants to make those years a time of rehabilitation rather than punishment. But not everyone's buying it. "He's just another copper to me," snarls inmate Red Kennedy. Humphrey Bogart portrays Red, continuing his climb to stardom in this brisk film that's one of a string of Depression-era works combining gangster-movie elements with a Big House setting. Studio mainstay Pat O'Brien plays Steve Jameson, whose carrot-and-stick reforms begin to change Red's thinking. An inmates' strike and a scripture-quoting con who swipes a rifle are among the troubles Jameson faces. And Red is another as he reverts to his old ways and makes a violent break for freedom.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Monaural

Runtime: 70 min.
Price: $19.97
Release Date: 7/18/2006

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Patricia King Hanson
• “Welcome to the Big House” Featurette
• “Warner Night at the Movies” Short Subjects Gallery
• “Breakdowns of 1937” Blooper Reel
• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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San Quentin (1937)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 28, 2006)

For a look at prison life in the Thirties, we check out 1937’s San Quentin. When abusive Lt. Druggin (Barton MacLane) proves a poor captain of the yard, Warden Taylor (Joseph King) brings in Army Officer Steve Jameson (Pat O’Brien) to run things. The film introduces us to Jameson as he moons over nightclub singer Mae De Villiers (Ann Sheridan) during her act. The two hit it off, but a complication arises when we meet her brother “Red” Kennedy (Humphrey Bogart), a crook who gets sent to Jameson’s new stomping grounds.

Over on San Quentin, Jameson gets to know his job and his new charges. He gets to know Red while he romances Mae on the outside. His job complicates this since she loathes prison employees. Natch, he keeps his position a secret at first. The movie follows Jameson’s work in prison as well as his extracurricular activities with Mae and how all of this affects Red.

If you expect a realistic look at prison life or a coherent movie, you’ll come away from San Quentin disappointed. The film exists as little more than an action potboiler, which leaves little room for elements connected to the true-life side of things.

It also fails to mesh into a concise narrative. The story flits from Jameson to Red without much logic and never seems very sure where it wants to go. Actually, that's not totally true, as the film relentlessly pursues its prison break climax. The problem is that it takes odd liberties to deliver us to that point, and this makes the preceding period less than sensible.

Despite all these flaws, I must admit I think San Quentin provides a pretty entertaining experience. Sure, the plot comes about for little reason other than to provide action, but at least it delivers good thrills. The climax offers very solid stunts and turns into a tight, taut piece. The flick can become quite dynamic at times.

San Quentin also provides some fine performances. I especially like O’Brien’s turn as Jameson. He avoids the usual simpy attitude one might expect from a reformer/rehabilitator. This allows him to be a more interesting, three-dimensional character than expected as he backs up his social liberalism with a tough edge. Jameson’s no bleeding heart wimp; he’s a tough guy with a sympathetic side.

At only 70 minutes, San Quentin moves by briskly enough to obscure its weaknesses. These flaws exist but the flick goes so quickly that we don’t really care. Take this as an exciting action movie and you’ll like it.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

San Quentin appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Warner Bros. usually treats their transfers of older films well, and San Quentin indeed looked quite good.

Throughout the film, sharpness seemed solid. Very little softness was evident. Instead, the flick came across as nicely accurate and concise. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and only a little edge enhancement could be seen.

Source flaws were quite modest for a nearly 70-year-old film. Sporadic examples of specks, blotches and marks occurred, but these were surprisingly minor. Grain was the biggest distraction, as it seemed somewhat heavy at times. Blacks came across with nice depth and clarity, while shadows showed good detail. This was a strong presentation.

Similar thoughts greeted the monaural soundtrack of San Quentin. Once I factored in the flick’s age, I noticed no significant issues. Speech showed a little edginess at times, but I didn’t think the lines were problematic. Dialogue seemed easily intelligible and without concerns.

Music appeared clear, though it lacked heft. Effects were clean and concise. They also failed to demonstrate much range, but they were acceptably accurate and lacked distortion. No problems with source flaws marred the presentation. Again, the track wasn’t special, but it was pretty solid for a product of its era.

As we move to the DVD’s extras, we start with an audio commentary from film historian Patricia King Hanson. She provides a running, screen-specific discussion. Hanson covers sets and locations, elements of the prison film genre, cast and crew notes, themes, characters, and changes made to the original script.

If pursued to the appropriate extent, those topics could add up to a good commentary. Unfortunately, Hanson mostly narrates the movie. She occasionally touches on the subjects I cited, but she fails to do this with adequate sufficiency. Since she usually just describes what we see on screen, this becomes a dull, often pointless commentary.

Once again Warner Night at the Movies attempts to replicate the cinematic experience circa 1937. This feature starts with a preview for Kid Galahad. We also get a period newsreel, an animated short called Porky’s Double Trouble and a live-action short entitled The Man Without a Country. These are the kinds of pieces that might have preceded a theatrical showing of San Quentin, so if you activate this feature, you get an attempt to duplicate a night at the cinema. This is a cool presentation.

Next comes a new featurette called Welcome to the Big House. This 18-minute and 25-second piece includes movie clips and interviews. We get remarks from Hanson, film historians Haden Guest, Anthony Slide, Eric Lax, Lincoln D. Hurst, Rick Jewell, Drew Casper, and Vivian Sobchack, producer Robert Evans, and actors Theresa Russell, Talia Shire, and Michael Madsen. We get a look at issues related to prison films of the Thirties. We find notes about genre conventions along with specifics about certain movies and the actors who appeared in them. On the way we learn comparisons between prison flicks and gangster films. These bring out some nice information about the genre. The show sums up the movies pretty well and offers a clear depiction of the prison flicks.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find Breakdowns of 1937. This blooper reel lasts six minutes, 38 seconds and isn’t as interesting as some of its counterparts. Though Bogart appears, it lacks the same star power and it shows too many similar goofs.

While not exactly a logical piece of storytelling, San Quentin makes up for its problems with involving action. The movie keeps us interested with its brisk pacing and lively events. The DVD offers very good picture along with positive audio and a mixed collection of extras. This is a more than adequate DVD for an interesting film.

Note that you can buy San Quentin alone or as part of a six-movie “Tough Guys Collection”. The latter packages San Quentin with Bullets or Ballots, Each Dawn I Die, A Slight Case of Murder, ”G” Men, and City for Conquest. This set is a steal for folks who want to own the various movies. It retails for about $60, which equals the list price of three of the DVDs separately. It’s like a “buy three, get three free” deal and is a serious bargain.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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