6000 Enemies (1939)
There’s a prison scene in the film Cool Hand Luke (1967) in which George Kennedy beats up and continually knocks down new inmate & wise guy Paul Newman in a sanctioned boxing match. Newman keeps getting up until he can do so no more and in so doing earns the respect of Kennedy’s character and the others in the prison. At the end of the fight Newman’s character is even assisted by the man who delivered the punishment. That scene might have been lifted almost in its entirety from this pretty good B movie starring Walter Pidgeon who plays a district attorney that’s framed and sent to jail to be among his 6000 enemies two thousand of which his character estimates were ‘sent up’ by him. Nat Pendleton plays tough guy ‘Socks’ Martin who’s responsible for the beating that Pidgeon’s Steve Donegan receives.
Directed by George B. Seitz with a screenplay by Bertram Millhauser that was based on a story by Wilmon Menard and Leo L. Stanley this crime and punishment drama also features (among others) Rita Johnson as Ann Barry a woman who’d been framed (initially by persons unknown) and then prosecuted by Donegan only a deputy trial prosecutor at the time; Paul Kelly as the prison’s Dr. Malcolm Scott Harold Huber as the notorious ‘gangster’ Joe Silenus Grant Mitchell as Warden Alvin Parkhurst John Arledge as Donegan’s younger brother Phil J.M. Kerrigan as Donegan’s assistant Dan Barrett Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams as a member of Silenus’s gang Esther Dale as a prison matron and Raymond Hatton & Willie Fung as prisoners. Selmer Jackson as a judge and Ernest Whitman as a prisoner are among those who appear uncredited.
A pretty standard prison drama really easily viewed digested and enjoyed in just more than an hour. With more than 500 convictions to his name Donegan is successful in his bid to become the D.A.. However he’s made a lot of enemies chief among them is Silenus who uses a gambling debt owed to him by the prosecutor’s former assistant Dan Barrett to (pressure him into helping) frame Donegan on a phony bribery charge. This is ironic because Donegan had said that a frame-up was almost impossible while prosecuting Ms. Barry. Of course once inside the prison run by a somewhat detached and certainly naive warden Donegan is quickly a target of those he’d sent there (virtually everyone). He’s befriended and protected by the kindly clued-in doctor who assigns Donegan to the ward that contains the older and crazy inmates.
Silenus doesn’t want to take any chances that Donegan makes it through his year long sentence on good behavior so he tells Maxie (Williams) to get word to Socks to bump off the former D.A. which leads to the aforementioned bout. Actually Dr. Scott who knew of Donegan’s former ring experience setup the match with Socks rightly thinking that the ex-prosecutor could hold his own and/or gain the respect of the others in the process. Socks then warns Donegan of the pending Silenus hit. Meanwhile Donegan had befriended Ann and had employed his brother to assist with clearing her in that case. But against Donegan’s warnings Phil had also been following Silenus and his gang which leads to a predictable ending (including his death) that begins with the requisite failed prison break and ends with the expected exonerations.