American Prison Film Since 1930

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This book studies a number of well-known prison films from an analytical and historical perspective. Throughout the years, prison movies have appeared to be neglected within the canon of genres like westerns, screwball comedies, horror films and the like; they have been recognized merely an adjunct subgenre to the more prominent genres like gangster films. The prison movie is indeed its own separate genre, and the book proves this by utilizing existing genre criticism, especially from leading scholars like Thomas Schatz. Although there have been a number of cross-genre films (Blade Runner is a fusion of science fiction, film noir, and action/adventure; Star Wars is a science fiction western action film, etc.), the prison movie is perhaps the only pure-bred genre that yields so many other genres within its original framework: gangster prison films (The Big House), film noir prison films (Brute Force), western prison films (There Was a Crooked Man), sports prison films (The Longest Yard), science fiction prison films (Escape from New York), the POW film (Stalag 17), even musicals (Chicago). In addition to surveying the genre from 1930-2000, the book deconstructs twelve films in great detail through full annotated summaries based on the codes and conventions of the proposed genre – films like Stalag 17, Cool Hand Luke, Midnight Express, Escape from Alcatraz, and The Shawshank Redemption are among the films considered.


“ ... The book contextualizes genre theory as well as existing genre films within the scope of film history in an original fashion, making this study additionally engaging ... What Professor Gonthier has done in his book is deconstruct the structural attributes of existing genre criticism to help substantiate his own perspectives within his nearly exhaustive critical research and analysis. Rather than locating a historical period of the genre, what he has done is to look at the formal, thematic, ideological and symbolic nature of these films with great breadth. This kind of research and analysis is precisely what one desires in the area of scholarship.” – (from the Preface) Professor Lawrence Benaquist, Keene State College, New Hampshire

“Drawing on an impressive list of renowned film theorist works, Professor Gonthier brings his own unique style and insights to this often-overlooked nice of Hollywood history. His prose is at once complex and intricate, yet easy to read; its structure well-designed to deliver thorough information in an entertaining, accessible manner ... Unquestionably the most well-researched and documented text on the topic to date, this work is a refreshing and informative insight into the unique genre of the prison movie. For the film fan, it is an enjoyable and provocative read; for historians and analysts, it is a thorough casebook ...” – Professor Thomas Cook, Keene State College, New Hampshire

“This book is a fascinating overview of the unusual genre of the American prison film, which provides readers with an invaluable opportunity both to explore the genre historically and to reflect upon the notion of film genre in and of itself ... this book is remarkable for its historical value since it is certainly one of the first book-length studies to give prison films serious consideration and discuss them in a thorough and critical manner ... This is not a dry and detached treatise of film theory and criticism. The book is primarily dedicated to the pleasure of exploring film texts, paying particular attention to delicate nuances of film style and the rich layers of narrative meaning ...” – Professor Jiwon Ahn, Keene State College, New Hampshire

Table of Contents

Preface by Lawrence Benaquist
Introduction: Defining the Prison Movie Genre
1. The Gangster in Jail: Prison Movies of the 1930s and 1940s
2. From Pre-Code: Exploited Women-in-Prison Films
3. Behind Enemy Bars: The World War II POW Film
4. No Such Thing as Bad Boys: The Reform School Film
5. Bad Machines: The Asylum Film
6. Three Genres on the Inside: The Western, Science Fiction, and Action/Adventure Prison Films
7. Mean Machines: The Sports Film Behind Bars
8. Between The Rock and a Hard Place: The Alcatraz Movie
9. Partners in Crime: The Prison Comedy
10. Three Prison Film Auteurs: Stuart Rosenberg, Alan Parker, and Frank Darabont
Conclusion: The Prison Film in the Millennium and Beyond

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