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Word Count: 3,181
The first prison films in American cinema were short documentaries and melodramas which all shared a strong social consciousness For The Commonwealth 1912 showed the benefits of convicts performing useful labor The Convicts Parole 1912 and The Convict King 1915 denounced the exploitation of prisoners as cheap workers Convict Life In The Ohio Penitentiary 1912 and The Modern Prison 1914 depicted the beneficial effects of the humane treatment of convicts Life In A Western Penitentiary 1913 warned lawbreakers of the sufferings awaiting them behind bars and The Exposure Of The Delaware Whipping Post 1914 sang the praises of the lash which would not be retired in Delaware until 1972 The Honor System 1917 directed by Raoul Walsh attacked the mistreatment of inmates and included a dramatic prison-break sequence Capital punishment was criticized by Lois Webers The People Vs John Doe 1916 and the modern story of DW Griffiths classic Intolerance 1916 as well as by The Girl And The Crisis 1917 and Who Shall Take My Life 1917 The 1920s saw far fewer of these social-minded prison films along with a similar decrease in the crime genre the rare exceptions include Within The Law 1923 and Capital Punishment 1925 Prison riots in the summer of 1929 gave the topic currency at first on stage and then in films The talkies saw the birth of a genre with The Big House 1930 directed by George Hill produced by William Randolph Hearst and written by Frances Marion and Martin Flavin Historian Carlos Clarens described the line-up of characters introduced by this landmark film which came to typify the genre the semi-hysterical weakling victimized by both guards and fellow prisoners the informer the ineffectual warden the guard who deals out unnecessary punishment and the strong-willed convict leader Crime Movies 1980 The film also treated audiences to such genre hits as the prison riot as well as a depiction of the alternative society which inmates create for themselves --
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