After merely destroying parking meters, Paul Newman gets sent to prison where he becomes an inspiration to the other prisoners by refusing to let the guards get the better of him. Soon he is up in arms against the wardens which leads to a tragic outcome.
A big hit in 1967, this is one of Paul Newman’s most significant films, casting him as a mooncalf vandal whose destructive pre-credits spree — decapitating parking meters — lands him on a prison farm where his uppity, rebellious, downright mule-headed attitude brings him into major league conflict with the guards and makes him a heroic martyr for the other cons.
One of those movies you remember Great Moments from: the egg-eating contest, warden Strother Martin complaining “what we got here is a failure to communicate”, George Kennedy winning an Academy Award as the toughest con who plays St Peter to Newman’s Jesus, the Evil Guard in Mirror Sunglasses, the card game that gets out of hand. Like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (which has the same plot), this is simultaneously a damn fine prison movie with all the clichés lovingly in place and a comic allegory of redemption in America. Fans of sweaty redneck character actors get a treat, what with J.D. Cannon, Anthony Zerbe, Joe Don Baker, Harry Dean Stanton, Dennis Hopper and Morgan Woodward in the same film.
Paul Newman gives one of his best performances in this prison film, where he inspires life in to his fellow inmates and although the similarities to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest don't stop there, it still has something important to say, with several memorable moments and a superb supporting cast.
Reviewed by Kim Newman