Chain Gang (1950 film)

Chain Gang is a 1950 American drama film directed by Lew Landers,[1] written by Howard J. Green and starring Douglas Kennedy[2] as a newspaper reporter who goes undercover to expose political corruption and the exploitation of chain gang labour.[3]

Chain Gang
Titular screenshot
Directed byLew Landers
Produced bySam Katzman
Written byHoward J. Green
StarringDouglas Kennedy
Marjorie Lord
CinematographyIra H. Morgan
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
November 1950
Running time
70 minutes
CountryUnited States


After a state senator's bill to abolish chain gangs is rejected by the Senate, newspaper reporter Cliff Roberts (Kennedy)[4] persuades his boss Pop O'Donnel (Harry Cheshire) at the liberal Capitol City Evening Standard to arrange for him to go undercover in a chain gang prison. Equipped with false employment records and a tiny microfilm camera disguised as a cigarette lighter, he tells everyone—including girlfriend Rita McKelvey (Marjorie Lord), a reporter for a rival newspaper[5]—that he is going on a fishing trip, but actually heads for Cloverdale Prison Farm in the deep south, scene of recent incidents which left three inmates dead.

The prison's Captain Duncan (Emory Parnell) supplies labour in the form of chain gangs, which are ostensibly for state construction projects but in reality are being exploited by Rita's stepfather, local entrepreneur John McKelvey (Thurston Hall), for his construction projects. Working as a guard, Roberts secretly photographs prison conditions, arriving in time to witness the recapturing of an escaped inmate who is sent for an overnight stay in the sweatbox as punishment. Roberts is supplied with a bullwhip and is required to use it when a convict - Snead (William Phillips) - is caught covering up for another inmate who can't work well enough at the construction site. Under Captain Duncan's orders, Roberts reluctantly flogs Snead at the whipping post. Later he visits Snead in solitary confinement to apologise for the whipping and gains the inmate's trust.

Roberts' secret photographs are published in the newspaper, much to McKelvey's consternation.[6] A foreman on the construction project (who knows Roberts as Jack Granger) sees his photograph in McKelvey house. His cover blown, Roberts uses the confusion of fellow prisoner Snead's escape to make a run for it.[7] The two men try to outrun the guards and their dogs across wilderness and through woodland. Roberts is shot and left for dead by Captain Duncan,[8] who later pins the blame on Snead. Roberts eventually makes it to safety and is reunited with Rita. Snead is killed while on the run and McKelvey is charged with the exploitation of convict labor for personal gain.






Chain Gang was produced by Sam Katzman at Columbia Pictures and filmed in black and white by Ira H. Morgan.[9] Filming started on May 16, 1950.[10] It was reissued on DVD in 2012 as part of the Sony Choice Collection.[11]

Critical response

The film was praised for its acting, direction, action sequences and technical qualities, but Green's improbable storyline and dialogue received criticism.[11][12][13]


  1. American Cinematographer. ASC Holding Corporation. 1949.
  2. Bowker (1 May 1989). Variety's Film Reviews: 1949-1953. Bowker. ISBN 978-0-8352-2786-5.
  3. James Robert Parish (1991). Prison Pictures from Hollywood: Plots, Critiques, Casts and Credits for 293 Theatrical and Made-For-Television Releases. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-89950-563-3.
  4. Gary Don Rhodes (2008). Edgar G. Ulmer: Detour on Poverty Row. Lexington Books. pp. 259–. ISBN 978-0-7391-2567-0.
  5. Alan G. Fetrow (1999). Feature Films, 1950-1959: A United States Filmography. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-0427-8.
  6. "Chain Gang (1950, USA)". Prison Movies.
  7. AFI Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States. University of California Press. 1971. pp. 398–. ISBN 978-0-520-21521-4.
  8. Larry Langman; David Ebner (2001). Hollywood's Image of the South: A Century of Southern Films. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 177–. ISBN 978-0-313-31886-3.
  9. "Chain Gang (1950)". French Films
  10. FILM MEN ARE TOLD OF FINANCING PLAN: Official of Bankers Trust Co. Discusses Establishment of Investment Corporation By THOMAS F. BRADY Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 03 May 1950: 37.
  11. Mavis, Paul. "Chain Gang (Sony Choice Collection)". DVD Talk.
  12. Clive Hirschhorn (1990). The Columbia story. Crown.
  13. "Where's That Been? - Chain Gang (1950)" Archived 2015-09-12 at the Wayback Machine. 12/17/2013 | by Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. Classic Flix
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