Carbine Williams (1952)
44 year-old James Stewart plays a man in his early 20’s through his mid-40’s (and beyond?) something he was asked to do quite often throughout his career. His characterization is good though he is clearly not youthful enough physically to play the title character in the first third of the film. Chameleon actress Jean Hagan on the other hand ages much more believably (perhaps because she was only 30 at the time;-)
In any case the film is about a young man “Marsh” Williams who returns home after two “hitches” in the Navy to find that he must earn his eighth of the family farm by working it for two years before his father (Carl Benton Reid) will give him the deed to it. That’s what his other seven brothers including the oldest (James Arness) are doing or plan to do when they’re old enough. Marsh isn’t interested though because he’s impatient to marry his childhood sweetheart Maggie (Hagan). So he gets a job laying track for the railroad that pays him 40 cents an hour for a 10 hour day. However wanting to have “more” sooner he decides to join a couple of still makers (one of which is the recognizable character actor Porter Hall) and creates a growing business making moonshine all without his wife’s knowledge. When his operation is raided a man is killed and Williams is sentenced to 30 years of hard labor (the good old days;-)
In prison he becomes associated with “Dutch” Kruger (Paul Stewart) which leads to trouble when Kruger and some other inmates knife a squealer. Even though Williams didn’t participate he’s caught with a knife in his possession and gets sent to work on the chain gang with the other perpetrators. After a while of this arduous work and having to spend some time in the infirmary when his appendix burst he and his “group” are transferred to another prison run by Warden Peoples (Wendell Corey). Peoples discovers Williams is a hard case with a strong will who won’t even read his wife’s let alone write her or his family back because he wants them to forget about him. But he gains some respect for him when Williams kills a rattlesnake that might have bitten the warden. However when Williams shows disrespect to him before the rest of the inmates Peoples decides that he’ll break Williams’ will by putting him in “the box”. But the warden must release Williams after a record 30 days no one else had ever lasted more than a week at the prison doctor’s insistence.
It turns out that Williams was able to withstand eating no more than bread & water while sitting in a dark crate for a month by thinking of a new way to design guns ones which are lightweight and can fire multiple rounds before having to be reloaded. The rest of this most interesting story is about how this man came to earn his name which is the title of the film while he was a prisoner that was allowed to make a gun!