Behind the High Wall (1956)

85 mins | Drama | July 1956

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HISTORY

The working title of this film was No Power on Earth . Behind the High Wall marked the debut of John Gavin, who in the studio press materials was referred to as John Goleenor, a misspelling of his real surname, Golenor. According to press materials, some of the film was shot on location at the Sheriff's Wayside Honor Rancho in Castaic, CA. This film marks the feature film debut of actor Ed Kemmer. Behind the High Wall is based on the same short story as the 1939 Universal film The Big Guy , directed by Arthur Lubin and starring Victor McLaglen and Jackie Cooper (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ). ... More Less

The working title of this film was No Power on Earth . Behind the High Wall marked the debut of John Gavin, who in the studio press materials was referred to as John Goleenor, a misspelling of his real surname, Golenor. According to press materials, some of the film was shot on location at the Sheriff's Wayside Honor Rancho in Castaic, CA. This film marks the feature film debut of actor Ed Kemmer. Behind the High Wall is based on the same short story as the 1939 Universal film The Big Guy , directed by Arthur Lubin and starring Victor McLaglen and Jackie Cooper (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ). More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
23 Jun 1956.
---
Daily Variety
12 Jun 1956
p. 3.
Film Daily
15 Jun 1956
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jan 1956
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jan 1956
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Feb 1956
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jun 1956
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
16 Jun 1956
p. 937.
Variety
13 Jun 1956
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
COSTUMES
Gowns
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog
MAKEUP
Hairstylist
Makeup
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "No Power on Earth" by Wallace Sullivan and Richard K. Polimer (publication undetermined).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
No Power on Earth
Release Date:
July 1956
Production Date:
mid January--mid February 1956
Copyright Claimant:
Universal Pictures Co., inc.
Copyright Date:
28 June 1956
Copyright Number:
LP6695
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Black and White
Widescreen/ratio
1.85:1
Duration(in mins):
85
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
18004
SYNOPSIS

For months, Frank Carmichael works as temporary prison warden, waiting to be elected permanent warden. When the prison board chastises him for exceeding his budget, Frank, who is unskilled in corporate politics, angrily explains once again how the prison saves money by investing in food, education and activities that curtail riots. After the insulted board members leave his office, city superintendent Jim Hardy sadly pronounces that Frank has just ruined his chances for election. Frank then has lunch at home with his wife Hilda, who was hit by a car years earlier, leaving her wheelchair-bound. Although Hilda is supportive when she hears the bad news about the promotion, she blames her handicap for forcing Frank to remain in a position he dislikes. Frank comforts Hilda, but then is called away by news of a riot at the prison. Upon driving through the prison gate, his car is hijacked by prisoners Carl Burkhardt and George Miller, who have instigated the riot in order to create havoc and make their escape. Left behind is their partner, William Kiley, who is wounded by guards during the breakout. As planned, the fugitives take Frank hostage and are met by Burkhardt’s brother Roy. Roy leads them to a garage where mechanic Johnny Hutchins awaits, and as the convicts hide the car, Frank tries to escape but is knocked out. Meanwhile, Johnny’s girl friend, Anne MacGregor, and her father Todd, who runs the garage, notice that Johnny and their truck are missing, and notify the police. When Frank revives, he is in the back of Johnny’s truck, with Johnny and the convicts in the front. Just then, the police catch up to them, and Burkhardt ... +


For months, Frank Carmichael works as temporary prison warden, waiting to be elected permanent warden. When the prison board chastises him for exceeding his budget, Frank, who is unskilled in corporate politics, angrily explains once again how the prison saves money by investing in food, education and activities that curtail riots. After the insulted board members leave his office, city superintendent Jim Hardy sadly pronounces that Frank has just ruined his chances for election. Frank then has lunch at home with his wife Hilda, who was hit by a car years earlier, leaving her wheelchair-bound. Although Hilda is supportive when she hears the bad news about the promotion, she blames her handicap for forcing Frank to remain in a position he dislikes. Frank comforts Hilda, but then is called away by news of a riot at the prison. Upon driving through the prison gate, his car is hijacked by prisoners Carl Burkhardt and George Miller, who have instigated the riot in order to create havoc and make their escape. Left behind is their partner, William Kiley, who is wounded by guards during the breakout. As planned, the fugitives take Frank hostage and are met by Burkhardt’s brother Roy. Roy leads them to a garage where mechanic Johnny Hutchins awaits, and as the convicts hide the car, Frank tries to escape but is knocked out. Meanwhile, Johnny’s girl friend, Anne MacGregor, and her father Todd, who runs the garage, notice that Johnny and their truck are missing, and notify the police. When Frank revives, he is in the back of Johnny’s truck, with Johnny and the convicts in the front. Just then, the police catch up to them, and Burkhardt instigates a shootout. Within minutes, a policeman has been killed and Roy and Miller shot, and the truck topples into a ditch, out of sight of the police. When Frank comes to, he spots Burkhardt running away from the wrecked truck, and grabs a discarded gun and shoots him. As Burkhardt collapses, $100,000 in stolen bills scatter over the hillside. Frank gathers them, planning on turning in the money, but wraps the bills in a piece of paper he finds by his feet, then buries the pile. Just as he finishes, Johnny, who has survived the accident, stirs, and the police arrive to arrest him. During the ensuing investigation, Johnny insists that Roy duped him into meeting them by offering to help finance a new garage, then forced him into driving the convicts away in the truck. The only proof he can offer, however, is a sketch of the garage he brought with him in the car, and although the police search the wreckage site repeatedly, they find no sketch. Anne, who loves and trusts Johnny despite his troubled past, hires an old sweetheart, Charlie Rains, to defend Johnny. Meanwhile, when Hilda exults that Frank’s bravery will certainly earn him the promotion, Frank, to her dismay, confesses about the hidden money. At Johnny’s trial, Frank cannot corroborate Johnny’s story and Kiley lies that Johnny was Burkhardt’s accomplice, and as a result, the young man is sentenced to death. The next day, Frank is promoted to permanent warden, and tells Hilda that he plans to accept the job but soon quit, retrieve the money and move away with her. A devastated Anne then visits, hoping that Frank might recall a detail about the crime scene that would exonerate Johnny, and although Hilda is sympathetic, Frank dismisses Anne. Fearing that her desire to comb the accident site will uncover the hidden money, Frank sneaks back in the middle of the night, digs up the money and realizes that it is wrapped in Johnny’s sketch. Knowing that turning over this evidence will save Johnny’s life but ruin his own, Frank hides the money and the sketch in a cabinet at home, unaware that Hilda is watching. The next day, Johnny is brought to prison, and Frank orders that he receive special privileges, including daily visits from Anne, who urges Johnny to stay strong. Charlie later reveals that a top-notch criminal lawyer may be able to overturn Johnny’s conviction, but will cost $5,000. Todd refuses to lend the money, until Frank visits their house that night and voices his belief in Johnny’s innocence, thus convincing Todd to help. Soon after, Kiley approaches Johnny in prison and offers to help him escape in return for half of the $100,000, which he assumes Johnny stole from Burkhardt. Johnny, realizing that whoever stole the money also stole his sketch, immediately goes to Frank with the information. Frank, however, insists that there was no money, and Johnny deduces Frank’s guilt. Johnny attacks Frank, after which he is put in solitary confinement. Anne, who is no longer allowed to visit Johnny, asks for help from Hilda, but Frank has grown snappish and distant and will not listen to his wife. Desperate, Johnny joins forces with Kiley, who arranges a breakout. They run to Anne’s, where she has just learned that the attorney has scheduled a new trial for Johnny. Just then, the police arrive on the trail on the fugitives, and Johnny and Kiley hide in the garage. Frank orders them shot on sight, after which Hilda confesses that she has found the money and destroyed the sketch, hoping to save Frank from prison. Horrified that he has reduced Hilda to lawlessness and despair, Frank finally sees that they will not be able to live with themselves if they do not tell the truth. With this in mind, he arrives at Anne’s, where over the police loudspeaker he admits to stealing the money and the sketch and convinces Kiley to allow Johnny to leave the garage. Johnny steps out, and as Frank steps forward to greet him, Kiley jumps into the MacGregors’ car and crashes it through the garage door, hitting Frank before smashing into a tree. While Anne embraces Johnny, Frank dies in Hilda’s arms. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.