Convicted

Convicted ★★★

206th film of 2021: Convicted (Levin, 1950) released by Columbia in August this is an entertaining film noir/prison drama based on the 1929 play by Martin Flavin which Columbia adapted for two earlier films: The Criminal Code (Hawks, 1930), and Penitentiary (Brahm, 1938). The film fits within the cycle of prison noirs that turn the attention from urban settings, nighttime streets, and crimes to examining the systems designed to punish America's criminals and exposing how the conditions and policies surrounding the nation's prisons were inhumane, cruel, and a breeding ground for criminality perpetuated by inmates, guards, and even prison adminstrators. For this version, director Henry Levin and screenwriter William Bowers rely more on the noir style and themes to craft a story that works to critique the nature of justice and politics in America. Glenn Ford plays Joe Hufford a man who finds himself tangled in the justice system when he gets into a bar fight in a nightclub and while drunk knocks a man out, who later dies from his injuries. Joe's problem is that the man he killed is the son of a wealthy politician which leads to the direct prosecution of the case by the NYC district attorney George Knowland (Brodrick Crawford) who tries to help Joe and his corporate attorney develop a defense for Joe, but the attorney ignores Knowland's suggestions and Hufford is found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 1-10 years. In prison Hufford works to find his way and is a model prison simply marking time working in the laundry (brilliant use of montage to show the passing of time) until he learns that his father has died leading Joe to strike a guard. The warden (Ed Begley) sends Hufford to solitary as punishment just as the parole board meets to determine his sentencing, which is again influenced by politics rather than the facts of the case. Politics are also behind Knowland's demotion as he is sent to become the warden of the prison, and while there he determines to help Hufford out. He assignes Hufford to his household detail as his chaffeur, along with several others inmates: Malloby (Millard Mitchell), Ponti (Frank Faylen). Hufford begins to dream of a better life as he falls in love with Knowland's daughter Kay (Dorothy Malone) and prepares for one even as Malloby plans to wreck his plans by murdering Ponti, who Malloby sees as a stool pigeon for the police and the prison guards, especially Captain Douglas (Carl Benton Reid) who Malloby despises. 

The prison scenes make great use of noir stylistics like low-key lighting, inky black shadows, and some expressionistic angles which are captured by Burnett Guffey's (In a Lonely Place) cinematography. The cinematography along with Bower's script and Levin's direction emphasize the sense of alienation and fatalism that permeates the picture thanks to Ford's moving and visceral performance that is equally matched by Crawford's physciality and crusading spirit presented in the character.