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'Duffy of San Quentin' Review: Interesting But Dull

While I love the poster below, it resembles nothing close to the reality of the actual motion picture it claims to advertise. "Duffy of San Quentin" (1954) is not a searing prison-exploitation film. Instead it is a rather subdued docudrama based on the true story of a reform-minded warden put in charge of a maximum security prison.  

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Paul Kelly plays the title character who, out of the blue, is handed the job of interim warden at San Quentin for thirty days until his replacement can be found. Duffy's worked in lower positions at this same prison for decades and is brimming with all kinds of ideas. With only a month to institute them and to prove himself worthy of the job permanently, he moves boldly.

For dramatic purposes, we follow the effect of Duffy's reforms on one prisoner, the volatile, embittered Edward Harper (Louis Hayward) who is probably an innocent man. If Duffy can make the system work with him, he can make it work for anyone.

 "Duffy" opens and closes strong but sags unforgivably in the middle. A good chunk of story is wasted on a silly subplot involving Harper's childish attempt to haze a pretty young nurse (Joanna Dru) who works with him in the infirmary. This is the stuff of high school movies not prison flicks. It's also difficult to watch Maureen O'Sullivan wasted in the role of Duffy's patient, supportive wife.

Audiences in 1954 sure enjoyed the film, though. That same year a sequel, "The Steel Cage," would be produced.

"Duffy of San Quentin" is available at Warner Archive.   

 


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