The Law of Contact

Men of San Quentin (May 15, 1942)

Men of San Quentin

Released on May 15, 1942: A crooked deputy warden plans havoc among the guards and inmates in the infamous San Quentin Prison.

Directed by William Beaudine

The Actors: J. Anthony Hughes (Jack Holden), Eleanor Stewart (Anne Holden), Dick Curtis (Butch Mason), Charles Middleton (Saunderson), Jeffrey Sayre (Jimmy), George P. Breakston (Louie Howard), Art Mills (Big Al), Michael Mark (Mike, convict in ravine), John Ince (board chairman), Joe Whitehead (Joe Williams), John 'Skins' Miller (convict Skins Miller), John Shay (phone guard), Jack Cheatham (court gate guard), Drew Demorest (guard Gaines), Nancy Evans (Mrs. Doakes), Ted R. Standish (himself, prison department of music supervisor), John A. Hendricks (hinmself, prison orchestra conductor), G. Rolph Burr (himself, prison broadcast announcer), Jack Reavis (himself, prison glee club director), Carl C. Hocker (himself, prison guard), Phil Arnold (convict), William Cowley (himself, prison band vocalist), Richard Cramer (convict), Mike Donovan (prison guard), Frank LaRue (guard), Frank Leigh (board member), Pat McKee (convict), Neyle Morrow (Tony Binder), 'Snub' Pollard (convict), J.R. Thomas (himself, prison guard).


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Have you ever been in prison? I have not. I do not have any idea what prison life is like past the movies that I've seen. San Quentin is the largest prison in California, and has the largest population of men distined for the death sentence. Until 1996 prisoners were killed by being put in an air-tight chamber with poison gas. In the 1850's when California was part of the 'wild west,' and there were men from all over the country pouring into the state in search of gold, the state saw the need for a prison, and started one in San Quentin. At the time of our movie, almost a hundred years later, there are six thousand prisoners, and the area resembles a city as much as it looks like a prison. There is a neighborhood of cottages near the prison cells where the guards live with their families. As our movie opens, we meet a guard that is just returning from his honeymoon with his new bride, and we discover that a guard was killed while he was away, and a prisoner is being framed for the murder by the evil Deputy Warden. The Governor has sent a panel of leading citizens to investigate the goings on at the prison and make any changes that they deem necessary.

Now I won't kid you . . . there is a social message in this movie, and you will either agree with it or disagree with it . . . there is very little middle ground. The theme of the movie is that in 1942 the largest prison in the state has become corrupt and the prisoners are being abused beyond the bounds of normal punishment. It goes to the larger question that still inflames both sides of this debate today. If you allow prisoners to have a library, vocation training, music and other amenities, is it still punishment? Are prisoners supposed to have a pleasant life behind bars, or should they be treated like animals that have lost their right to live like men and women because of their crimes? Is prison meant to be a miserable time of suffering to punish them for their crimes, or a place to rehabilitate them so that they have a chance at a new law-abiding life after they have served their time? Pop some white kernel popcorn and get ready for the big debate, in this movie played out inside the walls of San Quentin, and see which side of this great ongoing debate you are on.