Experiment Alcatraz (1950)

Article 1981 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-17-2006
Posting Date: 1-14-2007
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Featuring John Howard, Joan Dixon, Walter Kingsford

Some prison inmates volunteer to be subjects in a medical experiment in exchange for their freedom. When, during treatment, one of the inmates inexplicably kills another one, the authorities conclude that the violent act was the result of the treatment, and the experiments are abandoned. However, the doctor who developed the experiments is convinced that the fault was not in treatment, but that the killer had an ulterior motive for his action. He sets out to find the evidence.

Once again we have science fiction content whose main purpose is to serve as a side element in a crime story, though at least this time the science fiction element isn’t the prize in a struggle between good guys and bad guys. In fact, the story in this one is quite interesting; you do get caught up in trying to figure the motivation for the killing, and there is at least one doozy of a plot twist that I didn’t see coming, and which I thought was going to turn out to be a fake-out of sorts, but wasn’t. Had the presentation been as good as the story, this would have definitely been a keeper. Unfortunately, the way the story unfolds is sometimes needlessly convoluted; since there are no great plot revelations involved, I can’t think of a single good reason why the killing is reserved for a flashback sequence instead of presented in its proper linear fashion. The movie also seems as if it’s purposefully avoiding melodrama on occasion, which might be an attempt to give the movie a little noirish fatalism, but ends up only making the movie seem slower than it needs to be. The acting is quite good, though, and it features a nice little cameo from Frank Cady as an inmate whose collection of postcards provides a major clue in the proceedings. This one is not bad, but it could have been a lot better.


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