CDCR Time Capsule (video) 1942: Archived footage was ending of film noir tale

By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Video archive and sound synch by Eric Owens, CDCR staff photographer
Office of Public and Employee Communications

With little information at hand, unedited film clips of inmates and staff performing gave no indication of when the film was shot or by whom. There was also no audio in the film.

In a previous installment of a CDCR Time Capsule, San Quentin Warden Clinton Duffy mentioned a New Year’s performance for the inmates. Was this footage of the event? The film showed men on a stage, wearing different clothes in different scenes – one of a rehearsal and the other of the real performance.

Using these scant clues, the search began. Scouring movie databases of films shot at San Quentin from the 1930s through the 1950s helped narrow the field.

After continuing to whittle down the options, one film rose to the top. Shot in 1942, “The Men of San Quentin” was stereotypical film noir. The final scenes of the movie feature performances of inmates and staff, complete with sound of them singing patriotic tunes. The images in the final movie matched the footage archived by CDCR.

(Editor’s note: Some videos, such as those linked from YouTube, may not play on CDCR computers.)

Watch the YouTube video with sound:

Using Internet Explorer, CDCR employees can watch the video (with audio and context):

mms://FDCMEDIA.accounts.cdcr.ca.gov/OPEC/2017/Time-Capsule-Men-of-San-Quentin.wmv

Now in the public domain, CDCR matched its raw footage with audio from the existing film, bringing it to life once again.

The film begins with a foreword: “In 1851, California became a state and discovered she needed a prison for the punishment of outlaws who swarmed to her in the Gold Rush. A low building was erected on a bleak point of San Francisco Bay – and thus San Quentin Prison started.”

“The Men of San Quentin” was released in May 1942.

Written by former New York City reporter Martin Mooney and directed by William Beaudine, the film was released under the banner of Producers Releasing Corporation.

Mooney had an inkling of what it felt like to spend time in the “slammer.” He served a stint in jail when he was a reporter because he refused to divulge his sources to a grand jury.

“The Men of San Quentin” is about a reformer who becomes warden of the prison, scrubs the institution of any hint of corruption and instead focuses on rehabilitating inmates to prepare them for reentry to society.

A shot of San Quentin taken from the movie.

The new warden allows public radio broadcasts from the prison, including inmates singing, which is the source of the film archived at CDCR.

The movie ends on a patriotic note with the San Quentin Men’s Choir, exclusively made up of inmates, singing the song “The Red White and Blue.” America had entered the second World War only a few months before filming.

“The starting beat of marching feet, the bands playing and cheers from the throats from enthusiastic people express the unified feeling of America today. They are all marching along together. The inmates of San Quentin are doing our part by purchasing United States defense bonds and stamps and working in prison industries to furnish vital materials for the defense programs so important to all in our land of liberty,” a narrator states. “Soldiers marching off to camps at undetermined destinations are easily carried away with the memories of loved ones left behind. We too have memories. We remember those on the outside, the ones we left behind. Now we haven’t time to dwell on memories. We have work to do. So fall in line. No time to pine. We’ll lift our voices high. We’ll all sing our praises together.”

Who was William Beaudine?

Beaudine was born in 1892 and began his film career as a prop boy for iconic film director D.W. Griffith in 1909. He swept floors, mopped and helped with wardrobe as well. By 1915, he was sitting in a director’s chair. He was known as a hard-worker who could turn out films at a rapid pace.

“William Beaudine – From Silents to Television,” a 2005 book penned by Wendy L. Marshall, described some of his early days working for Griffith.

Director William Beaudine and actress Mary Pickford, circa 1920s.

“I started as the lowest guy on the payroll,” he explained. “I was everybody’s assistant. I dished out water (and) painted properties. … I was the assistant camera man, assistant property man and assistant director all rolled into one. There was no such thing as a wardrobe person at that time, so if there was any wardrobe, that was part of my job too. I was kind of an all-around guy.”

He eventually became a director and worked with popular actress Mary Pickford in the 1920s. In the 1930s he went to England where he worked on 10 films. He returned to the U.S. in the 1940s but found the industry changed, new people were in power, and he once again had to prove himself by working on various low-budget flicks. He was often referred to as William “One Shot” Beaudine for his penchant for filming only one take of a scene, even if lines were flubbed or special effects didn’t properly work.

In 1944 alone, his name appears on the directing credits of 10 movies. In the 1950s, he turned his attention to television, directing episodes of “Lassie” and various projects for Walt Disney. His career spanned 60 years.

In 1966, he directed “Dracula vs. Billy the Kid” and “Jesse James meets Frankenstein’s Daughter.” Some estimate he directed 500 films and 350 television shows. He passed away in 1970.

Watch the video as archived without sound. (Editor’s note: Some videos, such as those linked from YouTube, may not play on CDCR computers.)

CDCR employees can watch the video:

mms://FDCMEDIA.accounts.cdcr.ca.gov/OPEC/2017/Time-Capsule-SQ-Archival-Footage-Men-of-San-Quentin.wmv

The film was dedicated to Warden Clinton Duffy and the men of San Quentin State Prison.

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3 Responses

  1. don novey Thursday, February 9, 2017 / 3:17 pm

    Actually San Quentin became famous for its background in the Francis Marrion Oscar winning movie “Big house” filmed in 1930.

  2. Anndriena Thursday, February 9, 2017 / 11:51 am

    These time capsule movies are absolutely fascinating to me. I’m a huge history buff and working at CIM I’d like to see one on our history here. An employee has the movie poster for the film shot here when it was the “prison without walls”. Very good work

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