The Bedford Falls Sentinel

Monday, February 20, 2012

San Quentin State Prison and It's a Wonderful Life ???

 If your a fan of the movie ... well actually even if you are not a fan ... you've probably encountered dozens if not inumerous reviews, ratings, and opinons written and verbalized about It's a Wonderful Life. Some old ones ignoring it's potential and new ones revisiting it as the classic masterpiece it is. Well here is an article with opinons and thoughts on the film from a source I'm betting you've not ever seen. Bob Thomas again writes in a Febrary 12, 1947 article of The Windsor Daily StarHere Opinions of Inmates. Thomas has interviewed inmates of the San Quentin State Prison after a screening of It's a Wonderful Life. An interesting audience , with some interesting responses. Full text below. 

   "Hollywood – For years producers have polled every type of movie goer to determine public taste. Now for the first time a prison audience has been polled, and the results provide an interested cross section of opinion. A showing was arranged at San Quentin Prison and inmates were invited to write their reactions to the film to Warden Clinton Duff. Over 300 responded and I have gleaned some comments from the original letters. The picture was “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The excerpts:

It IS a wonderful life. A lot more of this kind of show and a lot less horse opera ‘Lassie Lassie come home Lassie’ deals.

The picture was not any good. It gave out with too much insanity. Just when I was set to see a perfect show.

I have finally realized that the individual is nothing, the community everything.

Life can seem unbearable and times, but this picture proves it can be worse …

Wonderful picture, but it reminds me too much of my own trouble.

Warden, I will tell you a little secret I look around me in the show and through my tears I could see several more wet yes. It’s no disgrace to cry …

I enjoyed it up to the place where the bar got drunk and run the car into the tree. Being an alcoholic myself, I can remember too many fool things I did. And they grieve me so I can’t stand to see much of those things any more. We have had two horse pictures lately that I like better than any of the others …

I like any kind of movie regardless of type …

I like the movie and wish that we had more of them. It makes me think about home. I would say more but I can not spell the word.

… One thing that really hit me hard was the part where the $8,000 turned up missing. It showed what great heartache and suffering it caused a man, his wife and children, besides all the people who had their life savings in the company I believe the reason this park stuck so hard is because I am in San Quentin for armed robbery and it showed me how much pain and suffering and misery that I probably could have caused many people had I continued a life of crime.

One letter was written on the back of a parole request form and signed. “Respectfully yours until parole A-3774." 

If If you know anything of San Quentin then you know it's not a place for petty theives and crooked clerks. It houses some of our country's worse criminals. Manson was there at one point for example along with the infamous Black Bart that was portrayed in all kinds of Westerns over the years. It's also ironic that this article was written 22 years before (almost to the day) Johnny Cash gave his famous At San Quentin concert. Makes you wonder what inmates in San Quentin would say today if the movie was shown to them. Just a guess but I'm confident that they would sound a bit different. But , because of that curiosity I've contacted the prison paper (yes they have a paper, the one and only prison published) to inquire about a new showing, records of those old opinions, and the fate of inmate A-3774. 

*When looking into the prison paper I cam across this comment concerning the same warden mentioned here. Apparently he'd done some good works in there. *

I give them most of the credit for my continued freedom [42 years this coming August]. I was considered a hard core convict until I met Bill Sands [Author of My Shadow Ran Fast} and former Warden Clinton Duffy. Was raised in the correctional system, never thought I could be anything else until I got involved with the 7th step program."

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