20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932)


As I write this, “Shawshank Redemption” is IMDB’s number two top movie of all time. I find that absolutely fascinating.

The prison movie isn’t quite a genre to itself because the story possibilities vary so. But there is a definite collection of cinematic devices that are used in nearly all of them, only “Silence of the Lambs” excepted that I can recall.

This film may be the first to set that collection of cinematic devices. It has a lame redemption story and quite ineffective acting styles. But the way the story is told in images is masterful. The filmmaker is Michael Curtiz, who you will know as the man who took a B movie and framed it beautifully as “Casablanca”.

His is an approach very much like the “graphic novel” trend sweeping across Hollywood right now. Simple compositions, starkly presented to be easy to read. A consistent pulse in the way scenes change. Strict attention to the way the brightness is modulated slowly throughout the thing. And of course within this, some shots of prison life that have since become almost mandatory. (Thank God, that slamming door sound effect hadn’t found its way into movies yet.)

So, if you are interested in cinematic storytelling, this is something of a must for you.

Posted in 2006

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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