Prison Farm (1938) Poster

(1938)

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6/10
Lloyd Nolan Goes To Jail and Takes His Girlfriend With Him
alonzoiii-11 July 2010
Lloyd Nolan is a guy who wants to bring his girlfriend the finer things in life without working too hard. But his scheme begins to unravel when he socks a corrupt cop making the moves on his girl, and gets both himself and his girl Shirley Ross sentenced to six months at the county PRISON FARM. Will Shirley find true love with the kindly prison doctor, or can his relationship with Lloyd survive his criminal instincts?

This is a not bad Warners style movie which packs in a lot of plot in a short running time. Shirley Ross puts in a nice performance as a good girl being slowly embittered by the parade of bad luck the movie flings at her. Nolan's performance is interesting, if a little perplexing. Nolan is playing for sympathy, but his role is decidedly unsympathetic. Other performances are neither good nor bad -- just rather typical. Viisually, the movie is more efficient with brilliant, but there is an impressive laundry room riot in the women's side of the prison farm about half way through the movie.

All in all, a good solid movie. If it had been made in the Bryan Foy unit at Warners, it would have featured Bogart and Ann Sheriden, and be a lot better known through constant showings on Turner Classic Movies
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7/10
Serving Time
lugonian20 March 2006
PRISON FARM (Paramount, 1938), directed by Louis King, is a well made little programmer featuring an assortment of Paramount contract players doing what they do best. Star billing goes to Shirley Ross, popular singer of several light musical comedies of the time, most notable for her duet with Bob Hope to "Thanks for the Memory" from THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938 (1938). She's surprisingly effective in a rare dramatic performance. No singing this time around, and for her on-screen character, no memories to be thankful for either. Not surprisingly, however, is Lloyd Nolan, whose variety of roles during the late 1930s kept him busy, ranging from heroes in one film to villains the next. His career somewhat paralleled movie tough guy Humphrey Bogart at Warners, with the exception that Bogey became legendary while Nolan remains a memory of numerous, now forgotten second features along with guest spots on television shows in later years. Best known for his supporting role as Officer McShane in A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (20th-Fox, 1945), his earlier screen performances under the Paramount banner are quite interesting as well. As for PRISON FARM, Nolan plays the bad guy this time around, with the focus centering upon Ross's character, a victim of circumstance, somewhat similar in parts to Paramount's earlier prison offering, MARY BURNS, FUGITIVE (1935) with Sylvia Sidney as the good girl and Alan Baxter as the man, unbeknowst to her, a wanted gangster.

For the plot summary, Jean Forrest (Shirley Ross) is a young girl who's in love with Larry Harrison (Lloyd Nolan), but unaware of his criminal past. He's wanted for the robbery of a payroll truck and the murder of its driver. On their way to get married, they are caught and arrested following an attempted robbery, with Jean as accessory. In order to avoid a much stricter sentence for the more serious crime, Larry is advised to serve a six month sentence, taking Jean, convicted for complicity, with him to a co-ed prison camp where they are locked up in separate buildings. The men do outside work while the women do laundry and other chores. While there, Jean witnesses the cruelties of her fellow inmates, including "Shifty Sue"(May Boley), a tough cell-mate whom she has befriended, and surrounded by Cora Waxley (Esther Dale), a cruel matron; Matron Brant, (Marjorie Main), a sadistic guard; and Matron Ames (Anna Q. Nilsson) hated by other prisoners for being an informer who secretly notifies authorities of any wrongdoings to her superiors. Jean is brought to the attention of Roi Conrad (John Howard), a prison doctor, who at first believes him to be just as cruel like the rest, not giving him the satisfaction, but in time comes to realize his sincerity. As for Larry, he is under the stricter guidance from Chiston Bradby, (Porter Hall), a corrupt warden; Noel Haskins (J. Carroll Naish), a sadistic guard, but mixes well with other convict toughs, especially those planning their escape. With much more to follow, the result is quite satisfactory. The moral lesson to the story, especially from the central character's point of view, is to obtain a resume and letters of recommendation before getting further involved with guy intended to make a prospect husband.

With prison films becoming one of Hollywood's more stable products throughout most of the 1930s, PRISON FARM has many of the ingredients needed to keep any interested viewer from crashing out of the movie theater or TV room. There's no time wasted for dragged out scenes slowing down the pace during its 64 minutes of screen time, which indicates how better constructed a programmer is in regards to a 90 minute plus "A" production. What used to be frequently shown on commercial television during the 1960s and 1970s (WPIX, Channel 11, in New York City) is not so anymore. Had PRISON FARM been a Warner Brothers release, obviously it would have found its way to a new audience on Turner Classic Movies, where much of the Warners, MGM, RKO, and some from other studios are played. As it now stands, it seems unlikely that PRISON FARM would resurface from the vaults from where this, and other fine little Paramount crime dramas, remain. (**1/2)
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6/10
Sort of like "I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" set on a work farm.
MartinHafer13 January 2020
Larry (Lloyd Nolan) is a complete jerk...and a crook. But his girlfriend, Jean, is convinced he's on the level and her faith in him leads to disaster. After he is involved with a robbery in which someone is killed, she believes Larry that they must leave town asap in order for him to begin a new job in Canada....even though he's picking up in the middle of the night to head there. He claims he wants to marry her and live in Winnipeg with her...whether or not this is true is uncertain because they both walk into a problem neither did anything to cause. A perverted sheriff attacks Jean and tries to rape her...and Larry stops him. The sheriff lies about what happened and both Jean and Larry are sent to a work farm for six months. Larry is able to handle it (after all, he deserves much more punishment than this) but Jean is starting to crumble apart due to the awful working conditions. What's next?

In some ways, "Prison Farm" reminds me of the classic reform film "I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang", though the work farm isn't quite as awful. Still, you can easily see that the folks making the film were also working to reform the system.

Overall, this is an entertaining story that keeps your attention throughout, though the film seemed a bit uncertain about the work farms. At times, it seemed to say they were cruel and evil...and at others they seemed less sure of this.
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6/10
Lloyd Nolan Hides Out In The Pen With Girlfriend Shirley Ross
boblipton30 June 2019
Lloyd Nolan has just robbed a payroll, and one of the men has died. He tells girlfriend Shirley Ross he has a job in Canada, and they'll meet at a suburban train station that evening. On the way there, her car breaks down and she accepts a ride from a guy who turns out to be a guard on a prison farm. He assaults her, Nolan comes to her defense, and Nolan and Ross wind up on the guard's prison farm.

It's a pretty good little second feature from Paramount, directed by Louis King. there's a good cast: Porter Hall as the uncaring warden, John Howard as the sympathetic doctor, and Marjorie Main and Anna Q. Nilsson as tough women's matrons. William Holden has his first movie role, although I couldn't be sure I identified him as the prisoner whose fingers are busted from holding a rock drill; the print was a bit fuzzy. The standout role is May Boley as "Shifty Sue," an old woman on her fifth time in the joint, tough and compassionate.

Like many prison films, it urges better treatment of prisoners. I'm pretty sure the audience preferred the barely Code-compliant brutality.
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5/10
The cages are full!
mark.waltz8 May 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Shirley Ross will not be thanking Lloyd Nolan for the memories in this B prison movie where she ends up an inmate thanks to Nolan's involvement in a payroll robbery which resulted in the death of the payroll guard. Nolan is a near do well who has no desire to find a steady job and instead relies on opportunities of easy money, as a result taking Ross down with him simply because she happened to stand up to a masher who offer her a ride when her car broke down on her way to meet him. In prison, she must contend with brutal matron Marjorie Main and witnesses a whole series of cruelties while Nolan, caged next door in the men's prison, fights to escape so he can locate the stolen loot. Together, they are not a happy couple, very close to Sylvia Sidney and Henry Fonda in "You Only Live Once", an early film noir that showed an unjust, unforgiving society and the wretched circumstances that occur when two people are simply trying to survive. Both Sidney and Fonda were innocent victims with criminal pasts, but here Ross is clearly a victim of circumstance, while Nolan is clearly the amoral one.

Ironically, the goings-on in the women's prison farm are more the focus of the drama then what is going on with Nolan. Like Eleanor Parker in the later film "Caged", Ross must contend with a nasty matron and the tough veteran female convict (May Boley) who pays dearly for standing up to Main. Esther Dale, having played a similar type of matron in the same year's "Condemned Woman", unfortunately does not get to share any scenes with Main whose rival she would play in several installments of the "Ma and Pa Kettle" series. Here, she plays Ross's surrogate mother figure, a greasy spoon owner who first ones her about Nolan being no good.

The film's highlight is a rather cruel scene where Main locks the prisoners in the laundry and turns on hot steam out of spite. John Howard, as the prison doctor, provides the only element of kindness in the women's prison, taking a great interest in Ross who refuses to submit to Main's domineering control. J. Carroll Naish, Porter Hall Anna Q. Nilsson and the unbilled Jimmy Conlin and Mae Busch stand out in smaller roles. You have to really strain your eyes to spot a young William Holden the year before "Golden Boy" in a small role as one of the male prisoners. Often unpleasant to watch, this is a film that will keep you involved and praying for an unhappy ending, at least for the innocent Ross.
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