DVD Review: Revolt In The Big House (1958).

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Directed by R.G. Springsteen
Screenplay by Daniel James (as Daniel Hyatt) and Eugène Lourié
Director Of Photography: William Margulies

Cast: Gene Evans (Lou Gannon), Robert Blake (Rudy Hernandez), Timothy Carey (Ed ‘Bugsy’ Kyle), John Qualen (Doc), Sam Edwards (Al), Walter Barnes (Red), Frank Richards (Jake), Emile Meyer (Warden), Arline Hunter (Girl), John Mitchum, Frank Ferguson

I don’t care what you think about him as a person, Robert Blake is a great actor. I’d list his In Cold Blood (1967) performance as one of the finest in cinema. He’s almost as good in Electra Glide In Blue (1973). And he’s terrific in Revolt In The Big House (1958), a tough little Allied Artists prison picture. Making any kind of impression at all would be hard when your co-stars are none other than Gene Evans and Timothy Carey, but Blake holds his own.

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Lou Gannon (Evans) is a big-time racketeer, and when he winds up in prison, he quickly makes his way to the top. Enlisting his young cellmate Rudy Hernandez (Blake) and violent nut-job former associate Ed ‘Bugsy’ Kyle (Carey), Gannon puts into motion an elaborate escape plan that includes staging a riot. Along for the ride are Frank Ferguson, uncredited as a lawyer, and John Qualen as Doc, a wise old inmate serving a lengthy sentence.

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Sure, it occasionally falls into the typical prison movie formula, but so what? It’s cool, it’s mean, it’s well-acted and it’s put together by some real pros.

After a great run at Republic, and before a busy decade in TV, R.G. Springsteen directed a few films for Allied Artists: a couple Westerns, a war picture and Revolt In The Big House. His work is typically brisk, always strong, never flashy. You could say the same of the cinematographer, William Margulies, who made great use of some location work at Folsom State Prison.

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The screenplay is credited to Daniel Hyatt and Eugène Lourié. Hyatt is actually blacklisted writer Daniel James. In 1998 his credit was reinstated by the Writers Guild. He also wrote The Giant Behemoth (1959) and Gorgo (1961). Us genre fans owe him a sizable debt.

Warner Archive has done big things with another little movie. It looks great, from the contrast to the 1.85 framing. I can’t say it enough: every movie, no matter how small, should be treated this well when it comes to DVD and Blu-ray.

It’s so easy to recommend Revolt In The Big House. Just the fact that Timothy Carey ends up with a machine gun makes it essential. And it’s got a lot more going for it than that.

Thanks to Marissa at The Timothy Carey Experience for the stills.

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6 Comments

Filed under 1958, HUAC, Monogram/Allied Artists, Prison Pictures, R.G. Springsteen, Timothy Carey, Warner Archive

6 responses to “DVD Review: Revolt In The Big House (1958).

  1. Hey, you are welcome for the pics! And i concur with your review. A great little film with a stellar cast that deserves more recognition.

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  2. Richard Oravitz

    I’ve always wondered if Timothy Carey was actually acting or if he was just being himself. WATERHOLE #3, ONE EYED JACKS, CRIME WAVE, PATHS OF GLORY, whatever…
    The other person I’ve always wondered about was Howard McNear, who was mostly famous as Floyd the barber in the Andy Griffith Show. Whenever McNear appeared in anything else he was always the same, scatterbrained, fumbling type character that we’ve all come to know and love via Andy.
    Where Timothy Carey and Howard McNear acting, or were they just being themselves?
    Can anyone answer this?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well I can’t speak for McNear (I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never seen him in anything other than the Andy Griffith Show!). But as far as Carey goes, I would say both, weighted more towards acting. Most actors can’t help but bring something of themselves to every part they play. But, if Tim was just “being himself” in every role and not acting, then he would have appeared to be exactly the same in every role, and a cursory glance at his career shows that that simply isn’t true. Look at the two films he did for Kubrick, The Killing and Paths of Glory. Even under the same director, you have two completely different characters portrayed in completely different ways. I sometimes find it hard to believe it’s the same actor, even though they were made only a year apart. And yet,Tim stamps each one with the unique Carey brand and makes them unmistakably his. That’s my take on it anyway.

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      • What a great response, Marisa. Thanks for contributing.

        “Most actors can’t help but bring something of themselves to every part they play.”

        That pretty much captures what I think a character actor is. They have something about them that makes them interesting — a look, a voice, some weird mannerisms, etc. — that might keep them from being lead material. But it helps them stand out in a minor part. Somewhere in there, acting kicks in as they use their quirks to bring a character to life and make a big impression in a small part. Tim’s great at this, as is someone like, say, Jack Elam or Elisha Cook, Jr. or William Frawley.

        McNear is a lot less “Floyd-y” in other things.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Richard Oravitz

    Certainly Tim Carey brings an intensity to his characters that’s all his own. I really feel sorry and distressed for him in PATHS OF GLORY, his performance has haunted me for years.

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