Customer Review

on October 29, 2004
Based on true-life events, "Murder In The First" premiered in U.S. movie theaters in January 1995 and stars Kevin Bacon as Henri Young, a 28-year-old man who (as depicted in the film) stole five dollars and ended up doing 3-plus years in the solitary "dungeons" of Alcatraz prison in San Francisco in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Upon looking up some information on the Internet regarding the "real" Henri Young, it seems that the filmmakers of this finely-crafted and well-shot Warner Brothers' drama did, indeed, dish up a liberal dose of "dramatic license" regarding the true events in Mr. Young's life. But, I suppose, this is to be expected from a Hollywood story depicting real-life people and events.

One thing that's been fictionalized for the movie is the brief scene when we find out that Young died while still behind Alcatraz bars. It's never fully explained in the film just exactly HOW Young died while still in prison. I think this should have been more thoroughly spelled out in the movie (even from a "fictionalized" point-of-view).

Evidently, according to info I can gather, Young did NOT die while in prison, and, in fact, might still be alive to this day. Young disappeared after being paroled from a Washington State prison in 1972, after serving additional prison time for another murder. (Sounds like another "D.B. Cooper" type of saga.)

"Artistic filmmaking license" notwithstanding, "Murder In The First" is an excellent piece of motion-picture entertainment, IMO. Bacon is just terrific in his role as the beaten, nearly-savage Young, who was confined to the pitch-black solitary confinement area of Alcatraz for more than 1,000 days before finally being released from the "dungeon".

Gary Oldman and Christian Slater also display their considerable acting chops in this film, along with R. Lee Ermey, who plays the Judge at Young's murder trial. You'll want to slap Ermey silly after a few scenes as the obnoxious "Judge Clawson" here. He's quite effective and humorous (although not altogether believable) as the rather overbearing chief court official.

This film has a classy style to it, with many interesting camera angles and camera movements employed by the movie's brain trust, headed by Director Marc Rocco. I particularly liked the way Rocco moves the camera in circles during the first scene featuring Slater and Bacon, with the camera moving non-stop as it circles completely around Bacon's/(Young's) jail cell. An effective way to present this scene, rather than just "planting" two cameras in the cell and cutting between still shots of the two actors.

This DVD version of "Murder In The First" offers up a dual-sided disc, with a Full-Frame (1.33:1) version on one side, and a nice, crisp-looking Anamorphically-enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1) version on the other side. Colors look rich and well-rendered here, IMO, with many scenes exuding a deliberately-grainier "1940's" look and feel to them.

The sound gets good marks here too. It's not a full-blooded 5.1-channel track utilized for this DVD, but the Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Stereo soundtrack fills the speakers very nicely nonetheless. There's a good musical score too.

More about this DVD ....................

>> Extra Bonus Material -- None at all.
>> Chapter List? -- Yes; located inside the "Snapper" DVD case (38 total chapter stops included).
>> Languages -- English and French (both in DD 2.0 Surround).
>> Subtitles -- English and French.
>> Region Encoding -- "Region 1".
>> MPAA Rating -- R.

Parting Thoughts ....... 1995's "Murder In The First" is a Grade-A motion picture, serving nicely as a good character study of one Mr. Henri Young, and at the same time doubling as a dandy "courtroom drama", too. A most-worthy 122-minute experience.
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