True confession. I watched this one at the theater on the town square when it came out in 1948. It’s Cañon City (pronounced Canyon City because it’s the Spanish spelling for the word). Further confession. I subscribed to Amazon Prime Video three years ago, and this was available. I determined to watch it, but when I went to look again Amazon had pulled it from their prime list. Inspiration! I checked and found it streaming on YouTube for free.
From Wikipedia, here is the cast of characters:
- Scott Brady as Jim Sherbondy
- Jeff Corey as Carl Schwartzmiller
- Whit Bissell as Richard Heilman
- Stanley Clements as Billy New
- Charles Russell as Tolley
- DeForest Kelley as Smalley
- Ralph Byrd as Officer Joe Gray
- Mabel Paige as Mrs. Edith Oliver
- Roy Best as Himself (as Warden Roy Best)
And here it is.
It’s about a real-life prison break that took place in the eponymous Colorado town. The producers, besides proclaiming its factual basis, inform viewers that actors in the movie are the people they depict.
Except only some of the actors are their movie characters. Obviously, the escapees were not available to traipse about the countryside re-enacting their escapades of the prior year.
Anyhow, a break is being planned. The ring leader recruits others to join in. Here a prisoner electrician will deliver prison-made guns to a photographic darkroom for hiding.
The break is set for the next to last day of the year. Not a good time to be leaving a nice warm prison cell, but that’s the way it happened.
The producers do interview inmates at the prison. This man has been in the place since 1897. He has no desire to leave at this stage in his life.
Yes. Yes! The escapees employ the tried and true method of sneaking in hacksaw blades to cut through bars in the isolation lockup. The break counts on these hard cases to break free first to overpower the guards.
The break begins as guards return, not expecting to find prisoners out of their cells. Prisoners overpower them and take their uniforms.
Twelve make it outside the walls. A loud whistle alerts citizens of the break, and they rush to get to their homes and to safety. We get a look at what was playing in the theaters in 1947.
The prisoners scatter, stealing cars and driving to remote locations, where some attempt to pose as guards searching for the escapees but ultimately falling back on threats to coerce cooperation.
A teenage girl is menaced by a convict.
In groups of one or more the convicts confront the police. Here a family lies low as a blazing gun battle rages.
Nine are captured, two are killed, as in this instance where the ring leader is trapped on the iconic Royal Gorge Bridge. Of course he takes the fall.
The last one is captured after he allows a mother to take her son to a doctor. The father offers the escapee a ride, but there is a police road block, and he surrenders.
And that is the end of the real action.
If nothing else, I am sure the episode on the bridge is not true to life. I find no history of a convict being cornered. It’s pure drama inserted to pump up the plot. Besides that, the plot is limp and without a lot of intense drama. Performances are proforma. The production seems aimed at leveraging on the locale’s infamy as a host for multiple prisons.
My family took a Colorado vacation a few years after the movie, and we drove across the bridge. I was amazed. It went nowhere. It was not for serious traffic. There is a joke about a family at the bridge. The boy wants to drive the car across, but the father is concerned. The boy says, “What are you worried about? It’s a rental.”
When I previewed the movie on Amazon three years ago the print seemed to be in good shape, but this one on YouTube has serious quality issues. Most noticeable, about the time the prisoners breach the outer wall the sound track cuts out for about a minute. When sound resumes it leads the video by five seconds. You get to hear what’s going to happen before it happens. It could be I should have paid to rent from Amazon.