Category Archives: Movies

Riot in Cell Block 11: When Character Actors Star

With a sterling resume as an independent Hollywood producer (The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Queen Christina, Algiers, Stagecoach, Foreign Correspondent, Canyon Passage, and in 1963, Cleopatra), Walter Wanger opted to use his talents to expose prison injustice in the 1954 film Riot in Cell Block 11.  The immediate prompt was his 1952 incarceration at the Wayside Honor Farm for putting a slug into the groin of agent Jennings Lang, believed to be having an affair with Wanger’s wife, actress Joan Bennett. 

The resulting spare film (80 minutes) is an attack on a society—wardens, guards, politicians and the public at large—that could care less about rehabilitation or the tendency to dump psychopaths into the general prison population.  Aptly, the director was Don Siegel, cutting his teeth on B-movies generally more interesting and in retrospect more important than most big-budget studio films.  Soon Siegel would helm Wanger’s seminal science fiction movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers and later achieve greater fame directing Clint Eastwood in such films as Coogan’s Bluff, The Beguiled and Dirty HarryRiot bears his occasional semi-documentary approach, beginning with newsreel film of actual U.S. prison riots.

Filmed at Folsom State Prison in California, Riot in Cell Block 11 is unique in that all of the stars  are character actors:  the riot’s fomenter Dunn (highly decorated WW II soldier Neville Brand in a sympathetic role), his brutish enforcer (Leo “The Scariest Guy in Hollywood” Gordon), the frustrated warden (Emile Meyer, fresh off his role as cattle baron Ryker in Shane), the by-the-book commissioner (Frank Faylen, an It’s a Wonderful Life alumnus soon to play Dwayne Hickman’s dad on TV’s The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis), Snader (Whit Bissell, once disparaged as an American everyman, here a despicable guard whereas in 1947’s Brute Force he’d been a con—and in 1957 would play mad scientists in I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein), “The Colonel” (Robert Osterloh, veteran then and later of innumerable TV and film roles) here playing an intelligent war vet incarcerated for a lapse in judgment that led to a manslaughter conviction), hepped-up Mickey (William Phipps, a nuclear holocaust survivor in Five as the most unhinged of the prisoners), victimized guard Monroe (Paul Frees, the ubiquitous narrator and voice actor, e.g., Boris Badenov on TV’s Rocky and His Friends), news reporter (William Schallert, the father on The Patty Duke Show in the 1960s), the con who initiates the riot (Dabbs Greer, veteran by the end of his life of over 300 roles), “Gator” (Alvy Moore of the future TV series Green Acres in a long-billed cap that must be seen to be believed).  Pay attention or you’ll miss James Anderson, who will be playing Scout’s brutish nemesis in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and a chain gang captain in Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run (1969).

In summary, Riot in Cell Block 11 may be the only major Hollywood film whose performers were all members of the unsung but necessary and often compelling caste:  the character actor.

By Kim

 

References

Holston, Kim.  Susan Hayward:  Her Films and Life.  Jefferson, NC:  McFarland & Co., 2002.  Trace producer Wanger’s trial and incarceration in at least 12 New York Times 1952 articles.

Kaminsky, Stuart M.  Don Siegel, Director.  New York:  Curtis Books, 1974.  See “Chapter VI:  700 Prisoners and a Handful of Actors.”  Siegel said San Quentin ex-con, now actor, Leo Gordon, was not originally welcomed by the warden, who made him enter a separate gate and searched.  Siegel and producer Wanger knew Gordon’s worth.  “Had he not been in the picture it would surely have suffered,” said the director.

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New Releases 6/20

Movies
Get Out
Life
Everybody Loves Somebody
Wilson

Music
Melodrama by Lorde
True to Self by Bryson Tiller
Fake Sugar by Beth Ditto
Chuck by Chuck Berry
The Nashville Sound by The 400 Unit & Jason Isbell
Tomorrow Forever by Matthew Sweet
How Did We Get So Dark? by Royal Blood
The Mission by Styx
Fingerprints by Eli Young Band
Woodstock by Portugal. the Man
More Fast Songs About the Apocalypse by Moby & The Void Pacific Choir
Ready to Get ‘Rowdy’ by Gretchen Wilson
You Should Be Happy by The Goo Goo Dolls

Audiobooks
The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz
Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani

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Build a Better World — Summer Reading

Summer Reading has officially begun! You can find more information on how to sign up and collect your raffle tickets on chescolibraries.org. This year we’re playing bingo. On the Bingo Card, there are are various genres and activities to complete until the end of summer. Download the Bingo Card!

I put together a list of recommendations based on some of the bingo squares!

#1 Read an Award Winning Book
The Sellout by Paul Beatty (won the Man Booker Prize in 2016)

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2016 & the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)

Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates (won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2015)

#2 Read a Book Considered a Classic

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

1984 by George Orwell

#3 Read a Book You Can Finish in a Day

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (the audiobook is 5 discs and roughly 5 hours long; the book is 192 pages long)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (the audiobook is 5 discs and roughly 6 hours long; the book is 180 pages long)

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch (the audiobook is 4 discs and roughly 4 hours long; the book is 224 pages long)

#5 Watch a Movie Based on a Book

Lion (based on the memoir A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley)

The Martian (based on the novel The Martian by Andy Weir)

Hidden Figures (based on the memoir Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly)

#6 Read a Book Suggested by a Librarian
Check out our Staff Recommendations here and here to find a book (or audiobook) recommended by a librarian!

#7 Read or Listen to an e-Book or e-Audiobook using OverDrive
Find more information about how to access OverDrive here or visit chester.overdrive.com!

#9 Read a Memoir, Biography, or Autobiography

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

#13 Read a Young Adult Book

Once and For All by Sarah Dessen

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

#20 Read a Book Published in the Last Year

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Read a Magazine on Flipster
Access Flipster on your computer or device!

Visit a Museum or Public Garden
You can borrow FREE admission tickets to various museums, zoos, and gardens in the local area through the Museum Pass Program at Chester County Library and Henrietta Hankin Branch Library. Check out what museums you can visit!

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New Releases 6/13

Movies
John Wick: Chapter 2
The Lego Batman Movie
Table 19
Un Padre No Tan Padre
Growing Up Smith
Mine
Bitter Harvest
Suntan
3 Generations
Frantz
Tomcat
American Epic
Great Escapes

T.V. Series
The Vampire Diaries, Season 8
Bones, Season 12
Shooter, Season 1
Grimm, Season 6
South Park, Season 20

Music
Feed the Machine by Nickleback
Heart/Break by Lady Antebellum
Wolves by Rise Against 
Ti Amo by Phoenix
Wonder by Hillsong United
Witness by Katy Perry
You & I by ALA.NI
You Don’t Own Me Anymore by The Secret Sisters
Binary by Ani Difranco
Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie by Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie
Folk Songs by The Kronos Quartet
Adios by Glen Campbell
Revolution Come — Revolution Go by Gov’t Mule
Now That’s What I Call Country, Volume 10
Cinco by Jim Gaffigan

Audiobooks
The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand
Matchup by Lee Child
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie

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New Releases 6/6

Movies
Fifty Shades Darker
A Cure for Wellness
The Last Word
A United Kingdom
The Sense of an Ending
Beauty and the Beast
Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back
Heartland
The Ticket
Land of Mine
The First Great Escape
The Guys Next Door
Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric

T.V. Series
Wentworth, Season 3
The Young Pope
Kingdom, Seasons 1 & 2
Van Helsing, Season 1
Doctor Who, Series 10 Part 1

Music
Relaxer by Alt-J
Hopeless Fountain Kingdom by Halsey
Dua Lipa by Dua Lipa
I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone by Chastity Belt
Last Young Renegade by All Time Low
Life is Good by Flogging Molly
Gone Now by Bleachers
Is This the Life We Really Want? by Roger Waters

Audiobooks
Love Story by Karen Kingsbury
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

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June is LGBT Pride Month

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month! I have put together a short list of movies, T.V. series, and audiobooks featuring LGBTQ+ characters, themes, or topics. Check out the XYZ Connect webpage to see what events we have planned in celebration of Pride Month!

Movies
Moonlight– A young black man struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.

Blue is the Warmest ColorThe colorful, electrifying romance that took the Cannes Film Festival by storm courageously dives into a young woman’s experiences of first love and sexual awakening. Blue is the Warmest Color is loosely based off of the comic by Julie Maroh.

Carol Two women from very different backgrounds find themselves in an unexpected love affair in 1950s New York. As conventional norms of the time challenge their undeniable attraction, an honest story emerges to reveal the resilience of the heart in the face of change. Carol is based off of The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith.

All About My MotherA woman must come to terms with the death of her 17-year-old son and her past when she seeks out her son’s father.

The Danish GirlThe remarkable love story inspired by the lives of artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Lili and Gerda’s marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili’s groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer. The Danish Girl is based off of the novel by David Ebershoff.

The Way He LooksA fun and tender story about friendship and the complications of young love.

T.V. Series
Orange is the New BlackBrooklynite Piper Chapman, whose wild past comes back to haunt her and results in her arrest and detention in a federal penitentiary. Orange is the New Black is based off of the novel by Piper Kerman.

GleeA talented group of high school misfits transforms into a performing sensation with the help of a dedicated teacher. 

Will & GraceWill and Grace live together in an apartment in New York. Will is a gay lawyer, Grace is a straight interior designer, and every day is full of laughs.

FriendsThree young men and three young women – of the BFF kind – live in the same apartment complex and face life and love in New York. While Susan and Carol are the only known LGBT characters on Friends, there are implications throughout the entire series that Joey and Phoebe are bisexual.

The L WordA group of lesbian and bisexual women experience life in Los Angeles.

Audiobooks
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz- Fifteen-year-old Ari Mendoza is an angry loner with a brother in prison, but when he meets Dante and they become friends, Ari starts to ask questions about himself, his parents, and his family that he has never asked before.

Simon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertelli– Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker- As a young, black woman living in 1930s Georgia, Celie faces constant violence and oppression. The Color Purple was made into a movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey.

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan– When Paul falls hard for Noah, he thinks he has found his one true love, but when Noah walks out of his life, Paul has to find a way to get him back and make everything right once more. David Levithan has written many YA books featuring LGBTQ+ characters and themes, including the novel Two Boys Kissing.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray– When a plane crash strands thirteen teen beauty contestants on a mysterious island, they struggle to survive, to get along with one another, to combat the island’s other diabolical occupants, and to learn their dance numbers in case they are rescued in time for the competition.

 

All images and summaries taken from catalog.ccls.org.

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Peyton Place: Return to Innocence

Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place was the scandalous and best-selling novel of 1956-57.  The title has become synonymous with small-town America, especially its hidden, often odious human substratum.  Here, in a story set immediately before and during World War II, patriotic parades, picnics, and proms mask hypocritical, sexually repressed, judgmental, mean-spirited, alcoholic, catty, and even murderous citizens.

In 1957 Peyton Place was made into a big-budget and highly successful film that may be the ultimate quality Hollywood soap opera.  (It became a hit primetime TV soap in 1964.)  With a running time of 2 hours and 37 minutes, Peyton Place allowed significant time for each of its multitude of characters to make an impression, and of its 9 Academy Award nominations five were for acting:   Best Actress (Lana Turner), Supporting Actor (Arthur Kennedy, Russ Tamblyn), Supporting Actress (Diane Varsi, Hope Lange).

The virtually unknown Varsi landed the key role of Allison MacKenzie, the high school senior who doesn’t want to attend college to learn how to write, she wants to write even if her apprenticeship is on the town’s newspaper.  It is Allison’s voice periodically narrating the story.  Another prominent inhabitant of the town is Dr. Swain, played by ubiquitous character/supporting actor Lloyd Nolan.  The climax turns on Swain’s decision to renege on a promise.  His voice of reason and compassion is raised to hold the community accountable.

Even now Peyton Place is a surprisingly affecting movie that can bring tears to the eyes.  Why?  Is it the tree-lined streets, the lake, the Labor Day celebration, the students and teachers holding hands and singing “Auld Lang Syne”?  It is perhaps a fantasy, a terrain that never existed, an environment we think or wish or maybe did inhabit as carefree children.  (Another example of this yearning is seen in “Walking Distance,” the 1959 Twilight Zone episode in which Gig Young interacts with his younger self and longs to remain in the town of his youth.).  One must not neglect another “character” that allows the film to successfully carry all this emotional weight:  Franz Waxman’s lovely theme and score.  Just before Waxman’s music wraps it up, Allison’s voice provides hope for the future:  “We’d finally discovered that season of love.  It is only found in someone else’s heart.  Right now someone you know is looking everywhere for it, and it’s in you.”

 

[Thank you, Mike Varano, for identifying potentially significant subtext:  characters are constantly opening and closing doors:  front, back, classroom, diner, restroom, office, closet, kitchen, pantry, car, bus, train carriage.]

By Kim

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New Releases 5/30

Movies
The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
Fist Fight
The Shack
Golden Years
Lyndey Milan’s Taste of Ireland
Victorian Slum House
Flatball: A History of Ultimate Frisbee

T.V. Series
Major Crimes, Season 5
Queen Sugar, Season 1
Suits, Season 6
The Last Kingdom, Season 2

Music
All the Same by Clayton English
Kids in the Street by Justin Townes Earle
Teenage Emotions by Lil Yachty
El Dorado by Shakira

Audiobook
Secrets in Summer by Nancy Thayer
Come Sundown by Nora Roberts
Theft by Finding by David Sedaris
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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Saddle the Wind  (1958)

In Western Films:  A Complete Guide (1982), Brian Garfield extols Royal Dano’s performance but otherwise comes down fairly hard on Saddle the Wind (1958).  He thought the actors had not received much direction, New York-born John Cassavetes was miscast, and the story familiar and clichéd.  Yet there is much to give pleasure in this film, especially for film aficionados who can put the whole shebang into context.  Familiarity with the entire corpus of film allows one to enjoy almost any movie.

The Colorado scenery is captivating, the gunplay choreography judicious, the music by future master of western scores Elmer Bernstein, and the character actors backing up Robert Taylor and Julie London rather stunning:  Dano as the fanatical, perhaps unhinged Union army veteran who shakes a deed to the verdant valley into the faces of Sinclair (Robert Taylor) and Deneen (Donald Crisp) and dares them to run off him and his small group of sodbusters, Jay Adler as a bedraggled saloon worker, gravely-voiced Charles McGraw as the extremely nasty Venables come to town to test himself against former gunman Sinclair, Douglas Spencer as the ranch hand incapable of chaperoning the increasingly violent Tony (Cassavetes), and Ray Teal as Deneen’s major domo.

The dialogue is also sparkling, and it’s easy to see why.  Rod Serling was the screenwriter.  He’d written Patterns (1955) and Requiem for a Heavyweight (1956) for TV.  The year after Saddle the Wind he was narrating and writing his ground-breaking TV series, The Twilight Zone.

Some of the movie’s pithy monologues:

“Looking after your brother is like poking hot butter in a wildcat’s ear.  It just can’t be done.”  (Douglas Spencer as Hemp Scribner)

“Sonny, I got the guts and the know-how to puncture your belly six times before you can take a breath of air.”  (Charles McGraw as Venables)

“I’m no slut, Mr. Sinclair.  He didn’t buy me like he bought that gun.”  (Julie London as Joan Blake)

“Yes, but not to a man.  I’m telling it to a dirty, little, trigger-happy jackal without a heart in his body. I can’t say it much plainer that that, Tony.”  (Donald Crisp as Dennis Deneen)

Beyond the sociopathic behavior of Tony, larger issues emerge.  Like Shane (1953), in Saddle the Wind we observe characters embroiled in an imbroglio from which neither side can claim a fully satisfactory outcome.  Who should control the valley, the farmers or the cattlemen?  Both have solid arguments.  Human detritus from the Civil War is also in evidence, with the Union veteran (Dano) being taunted by “Dallas” (Richard Erdman).  Consider Cassavetes’ Tony the incarnation of Shane’s gun-for-hire Wilson (Jack Palance) who insults and blows away Elisha Cook, Jr.’s Reb.  Or maybe Charles McGraw’s Venables is the parallel, although we don’t learn anything of his backstory.

By Kim

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New Releases 5/23

Movies
The Great Wall
Rock Dog
Logan
Dheepan
On the Way to School
Independent Lens: Birth of a Movement
Dark Angel
I Am Heath Ledger
Shake the Dust

T.V. Series
Outsiders, Season 2

Music
One More Light by Linkin Park
Back To Us by Rascal Flatts
Freedom of Movement by Nina Miranda
In the Wind by Magic Giant
Slow All Over by Blond Ambition
Connect the Dots by Misterwives
Manic Revelations by Pokey LaFarge
World Be Gone by Erasure
The King & I by Faith Evans and The Notorious B.I.G.

Audiobooks
Testimony by Scott Turow
Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton

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