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‘Riot in Cell Block 11’ gets DVD release

the Criterion Collection

Don Siegel was a filmmaker known for smart, tough-minded action, a masterfully efficient directing style, and a string of collaborations with Clint Eastwood. We think of Siegel and we think of “Dirty Harry,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and “Escape From Alcatraz.” This week, the Criterion Collection trains its cineaste spotlight on Siegel by reissuing another prison story, the early-career effort “Riot in Cell Block 11” (1954). Shot at California’s Folsom penitentiary (of Johnny Cash and “Jericho Mile” fame), the picture alternates taut, escalating conflict with prison-reform debate, a hot-button issue at the time. The mix brings to mind the gritty social realism of “On the Waterfront,” released just months later. The disc’s supplements credit this exposé quality to producer Walter Wanger, who’d been deeply affected by a jail stint he’d served for violent crime. But the cell block tension is very much Siegel. So is the study of complicated characters pushed to extremes — a thematic hallmark that makes it possible, go figure, to reconcile this film’s liberalism with the notorious conservatism of “Dirty Harry.” As critic Chris Fujiwara writes in liner notes, “Riot” is “the first film to reveal the deep sense of violent, unresolvable contradiction that would animate the director’s greatest work.” Fujiwara sees a connection to “Body Snatchers” as well, noting how both movies seek “to get down to the core of humanity, to show that it has to be fought for.” Among the other extras: film scholar commentary, and excerpts from Siegel’s autobiography, read by his son. (Criterion, $24.95; Blu-ray, $39.95)



In William Friedkin’s reworking of the French genre notable “The Wages of Fear,” Roy Scheider leads a team of desperate characters transporting a cargo of nitroglycerin over treacherous South American terrain. (All to a score by Tangerine Dream, a Hollywood first.) At the time of its release, this one didn’t exactly combine with “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist” to net Friedkin a career trifecta. But over the years, the film has found an audience. In the hardcover booklet accompanying the Blu-ray debut, Friedkin calls it his “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” “Sorcerer,” he writes, “is the best film I’ve made.” (Universal, $27.98)



Hard to believe that Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler’s classic collaboration and Orson Welles’s tequila noir haven’t gotten Blu-ray treatment before, but studio vault minders rectify the situation with a pair of nicely appointed reissues. “Double Indemnity” offers two film historian commentaries, including one by Richard Schickel. With “Touch of Evil,” viewers get three different edits of the film, including a 1998 reconstructed version (and Welles’s 58-page studio memo dictating the particulars). Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh (pictured) are featured in interviews and commentaries. (Universal, $29.98 each; available now)


Titles are in stores Tuesday unless specified.

Tom Russo can be reached at