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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r


H D - S E N S E I

A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Riot in Cell Block 11 [Blu-ray]


(Don Siegel, 1954)



Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: Allied Artists Pictures

Video: Criterion Collection Spine #704



Region: 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:20:35.288

Disc Size: 47,414,466,519 bytes

Feature Size: 23,783,043,072 bytes

Video Bitrate: 34.99 Mbps

Chapters: 14

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: April 22nd, 2014



Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
Commentary: Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps



English (SDH), none



• New audio commentary by film scholar Matthew H. Bernstein
Excerpts from the director’s 1993 autobiography, A Siegel Film, read by his son Kristoffer Tabori (25:07 in audio with still gallery)
Excerpts from Stuart Kaminsky’s 1974 book Don Siegel: Director, read by Tabori (13:01 - audio only)
Excerpts from the 1953 NBC radio documentary series The Challenge of Our Prisons (59:08 - audio only)
PLUS: An essay by critic Chris Fujiwara, a 1954 article by producer Walter Wanger (dual-format only), and a 1974 tribute to Siegel by filmmaker Sam Peckinpah (dual-format only)

DVD included with all the contents of the Blu-ray.





Description: Early in his career, Don Siegel (The Killers) made his mark with this sensational and high-octane but economically constructed drama set in a maximum-security penitentiary. Riot in Cell Block 11, the brainchild of producer extraordinaire Walter Wanger (Foreign Correspondent), is a ripped-from-the-headlines social-problem picture about prisoners' rights that was inspired by a recent spate of uprisings in American prisons. In Siegel's hands, the film is at once brash and humane, showcasing the hard-boiled visual flair and bold storytelling for which the director would become known and shot on location at Folsom State Prison, with real inmates and guards as extras.



The Film:

One of the best of all prison pictures, thanks not only to Don Siegel's sharp direction and a good script (by Richard Collins), but also to the creative input of producer Walter Wanger, who had been an inmate himself and was concerned about making this as authentic and as commercially uncompromised as possible. (The picture was shot on location in California's Folsom state prison, with many inmates cast in secondary parts.) The care taken with this grim 1954 drama paid off; it was Siegel's first major hit. With Neville Brand, Frank Faylen, Leo Gordon, and Emile Meyer.

Excerpt from Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader located HERE

A classic of the genre, almost documentary in approach - low budget, no stars, Folsom Prison locations, inmates as extras - and boiling up an explosive violence kept under perfect control. Not looking for cosy answers (in fact, final victory shades ironically into defeat), the script's prime concern is less to establish the need for reform than to demonstrate the fallibilities that militate against its accomplishment: Brand's riot leader and Meyer's warden are men of integrity in essential agreement as to what needs to be done, but each is attended by an evil genius - one psychopathic, the other corrupt - so that simple issues mutate into an entirely different ball game. A riveting movie.

Excerpt from TimeOut Film Guide located HERE


Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The much anticipated Riot in Cell Block 11 looks marvelous on Blu-ray from Criterion.  The image has excellent contrast with some consistent textures.  This is dual-layered with a max'ed out bitrate. Russell Harlan's (The Thing from Another World, To Kill a Mockingbird, Rio Bravo) cinematography (including deep focus shots) exhibits frequent shadows that the 1080P picks up with wonderful layered detail. The film has a documentary feel, at times, and the camera is fairly kinetic but there are close-ups and detail is impressive showcasing the fine grain. It is in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio (although some theatres, at the time, showed it in widescreen) and has no damage, scratches or even speckles. This Blu-ray has no discernable flaws and supplies an impressive 1080P presentation.

















Audio :

Criterion keeps the audio authentically flat with a linear PCM 1.0 mono track at 1152 kbps. While, obviously, no separation the intense jarring and clanging of doors and locks (as mentioned in Matthew H. Bernstein commentary) is always evident. This is not dissimilar to Robert Bresson's approach to 'incarceration' sound effects his brilliant A Man Escaped. The introductory news-style footage narration has realistic hiss but also sounds clean and clear if still retaining its representation. Dialogue and effects are solid and audible with scattering, pops or other defects. The adept score by Herschel Burke Gilbert (The Thief, While The City Sleeps) benefits from the lossless transfer. There are optional English subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as being a region 'A' disc.


Extras :

We are treated to a brand new (2014) audio commentary by film scholar Matthew H. Bernstein, author of Walter Wanger, Hollywood Independent. It is totally professional and filled with a myriad of valuable information on the background of the producer, the 'shooting' resulting in his conviction for 'assault with a deadly weapon' charge and the later production of the film, anecdotes of Peckinpah, the potential of Nicholas Ray as the director of Riot in Cell Block 11 etc. . One of the most informative commentaries I have heard in a long while. It is worth listening to more than once. We get three audio excerpts - one, 25-minutes worth with a still gallery, from the director’s 1993 autobiography, A Siegel Film, read by his son Kristoffer Tabori, a second has 13-minutes of excerpts from Stuart Kaminsky’s 1974 book Don Siegel: Director, read by Tabori and a third from the 1953 NBC radio documentary series The Challenge of Our Prisons lasting just shy of an hour. The package also contains a liner notes booklet with an essay by critic Chris Fujiwara, a 1954 article by producer Walter Wanger (dual-format only), and a 1974 tribute to Siegel by filmmaker Sam Peckinpah. This dual-format release also has a DVD included with all the contents of the Blu-ray.



I doubt many would require my review or endorsement before ordering. Riot at Cell Block 11 is a brilliant portrayal and exceptional 'message' film. What a fabulous choice for Criterion to bring to Blu-ray . The package offers, their typical, above-grade a/v presentation and a valuable informative commentary as well as the audio extras. Our highest recommendation! 

Gary Tooze

March 29th, 2014



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