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RALPH MEEKER IN 'BIG HOUSE U.S.A.' WITH CHARLES BRONSON

Poster for BIG HOUSE U.S.A. Year: 1955 Rating: ****1/2

A strange, investigative, manipulative, adventurous sort of crime/prison flick begins at a rural setting with Ralph Meeker involved in the botched kidnapping of a sickly young boy at summer camp: This gritty b-picture has been disputed by some of the more uptight viewers as a legit Film Noir since the main character doesn't have the necessary "moral ambiguity," although the otherwise vicious convicts serving at THE BIG HOUSE must realize, with a "child abductor" residing in the cell, maybe they're not so bad after all: perhaps, then, it's a kind of Film Noir in reverse...

One scene has pre-PERRY MASON lawyer and post-ARMORED CAR ROBBERY firebrand William Talman suffering guilt-ridden doubts when cold-blooded kingpin Broderick Crawford tells him, once the gang has escaped from the island fortress and are "hidden" on a fishing boat within a foggy ocean, to strategically kill a sleeping friend...

Charles Bronson in BIG HOUSE U.S.A.

And with WOLF MAN Lon Chaney Jr., whose sad droopy eyes are vulnerable from the get-go, providing the friendliest of the hardened lock-up boys, the Noir exists within the prison itself, and outside, too, so perhaps it's transferred to other places other than our buried lead, Meeker...

Nicknamed The Ice Man, who remains quiet and brooding yet is the only reason the men are willing and able to leave the cold comfort of their purgatory cell, eventually taking part in a fairly taut escape, thus catapulted from a ponderous frying pan into an unknown fire: he alone knows where the loot is hidden: Also includes Noir attributes like a relatively low-budget, creative camera angles and a strict, monotone narration, liken to FBI Propaganda or a Police Training Film the flavor of STREET WITH NO NAME or T-MEN... 

From BIG HOUSE USA with William Talman, Ralph Meeker, Broderick Crawford

Although the agent seeking clues means far less than his words spoken and finally turning up in the flesh halfway through while suspense boils behind the formidable, heavily-guarded walls: Where not enough time's spent to be considered a genuine prison programmer the likes of BRUTE FORCE or CANON CITY, yet much of BIG HOUSE USA has a HIGH SIERRA vibe, and second-setting: The mountain region bookending the penitentiary melodrama, taking the viewer into two polar opposite locations so it never gets too claustrophobic like some prison movies can, or too outdoorsy, which would take away from the gritty crime movie element...

As for Noir, well, again, some dummies say it's just a crime flick involving prison, or a prison crime flick, but, overall, not to forget future DEATH WISH anti-hero and former CRIME WAVE heavy Charles Bronson (back then billed as Charles Buchinsky) as the youngest, most muscular con addicted to jazz on headphones, this isn't too bad an hour-forty minute life sentence no matter what the genre, or legacy: the latter which this BIG HOUSE needs to acquire.

William Talman, Charles Bronson and Ralph Meeker in BIG HOUSE USA
Charles Bronson file in BIG HOUSE USA
William Talman file in BIG HOUSE USA
Broderick Crawford file in BIG HOUSE USA
Lon Chaney Jr. file in BIG HOUSE USA
Ralph Meeker in BIG HOUSE USA
Lon Chaney and William Talman in BIG HOUSE USA
Charles Bronson, William Talman, Lon Chaney and Broderick Crawford
Ralph Meeker in BIG HOUSE USA
Ralph Meeker in BIG HOUSE USA
Ralph Meeker in BIG HOUSE USA
Ralph Meeker in BIG HOUSE USA
Ralph Meeker in BIG HOUSE USA
Two Mike Hammer actors Robert Bray and Ralph Meeker in Big House USA
Robert Bray "My Gun is Quick" Mike Hammer w/ Ralph Meeker "Kiss Me Deadly" Hammer
Felecia Farr in BIG HOUSE USA
Felecia Farr in BIG HOUSE USA
Ralph Meeker in BIG HOUSE USA
Charles Bronson and Ralph Meeker in Big House USA and The Dirty Dozen
From BIG HOUSE USA with Ralph Meeker, Broderick Crawford
From BIG HOUSE USA with Ralph Meeker, Broderick Crawford
Matte Painting Printing of BIG HOUSE U.S.A.

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