Six Against The Rock
Release Date: May 18, 1987 (TV Movie)
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Action
Director: Paul Wendkos
Writers: John Gay (Teleplay), Clark Howard (Book)
Starring: David Carradine, Richard Dysart, Dennis Farina, Charles Haid, David Morse, Jan Michael Vincent, Howard Hesseman
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
This past Christmas I received a book written by acting great David Carradine. His memoir titled “Endless Highway” talks about his life, his career and his spiritual journey. Many people know Carradine as the main character from the hit 70s show “Kung Fu”. Today’s younger generation would remember him as the titular title character from Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” movies. After reading his book, I ventured into his film catalogue to watch some movies he was in. One of the films I came across in his resume was a made for TV movie that sparked my interest. The movie was titled “Six Against the Rock”.
Not to be confused with the film “Escape From Alcatraz”starring Clint Eastwood which was about the only successful escape from the prison, this film portrays the 1946 failed escape attempt by six inmates which leads to a hostage standoff that lasted three days. Carradine plays Bernie Coy, who is currently serving a twenty-five year sentence for robbery and the architect of the escape. The other accomplices in the plan include Joseph ‘Dutch’ Cretzer (played by Howard Hesseman), Marvin Hubbard (played by David Morse), Miran ‘Buddy’ Thompson (played by Jan Michael Vincent), Sam Shockley (played by Charles Haid) and Dan Durando (played by Paul Sanchez). The plan was to escape through ‘C Block’, which was the largest unit on the rock by capturing the guards posted there and using the yard key to make their escape where they would head to the shipyard and get on a boat that would take them to San Francisco. The plan fails when the inmates cannot find the yard key among all the keys in their possession. When they try to use other keys as an alternative, the lock jams leaving them stuck in the block with the guards. Coy decides to use the guards as hostages and use them as leverage for a negotiation with the prison’s Warden. Warden James Johnston (played by Richard Dysart) refuses to negotiate and instead tries to find a way to stop the siege and rescue the guards. He calls upon the local military for help. Now surrounded by military rifles and other hardware, the inmates only option is to fight it out. Would they survive the fight?
Direct by Paul Wendkos, who was known in the business as a “prolific specialist in made for television movies, this is indeed a tightly made film that accurately depicts the events that unfolded during those three days at Alcatraz in 1946. The majority of the movie takes place in one location so it gives the movie a claustrophobic feel. When the plan fails, the inmates are left to improvise with little to no help from the other inmates. As the hours and days go by in the siege, the inmates get tired and desperate. They begin to turn on one another.
There are some solid performances in this film. First I’ll discuss the inmates. David Carradine and David Morse work great together as Coy and Hubbard. Coy is very logical with his planning and he is quick to improvise when the original plan fails. He keeps his leadership intact with force and reasoning. Morse adds ferocity and patience to the group. Despite the plan slowly unraveling, he does his best to encourage and motivate the team to not lose hope and keep their minds focus on the objective. Hesseman and Haid portrayed the vicious and unstable characters in the movie, Cretzer and Shockley. They end up being more of a liability to the team rather than an asset. They become paranoid and desperate to the point where they start to take out their frustration on the guards being held hostage against Coy’s orders. They want to show they mean business. Jan Michael Vincent who plays Buddy Thompson in the film is quiet and composed, yet he takes his orders from Cretzer. The moralist of the group is Dan Durando, portrayed by Paul Sanchez. He was convicted of murder at age sixteen and is currently serving a ninety-nine year sentence. He is hesitant about escaping from prison in the beginning of the film and ultimately gets dragged into the situation once Coy releases him from his cell. As the events are unfolding, Durando keeps his distance from the others and prevents Cretzer and Shockley from killing the guards.
Richard Dysart plays Warden Johnston who is grasping with the situation that is unfolding in his prison. His main focus throughout the film is the safety of the guards that are held hostage. The design of the prison works against him and has to rely on the military to come up with a way of diffusing the situation.
There’s not much action in the movie other than the inmates rounding up the guards and defending themselves during the onslaught of the military trying to take back the block There’s an ample amount of violence from the beating of the guards to Carradine shooting the guards in the leg at the Watch Tower. There’s enough going on to keep you on your feet.
“Six Against The Rock” is an intriguing story that tells a historic event that has been overlooked due to the only successful escape from Alcatraz that took place in 1960. It’s a movie where its characters are not just people, but of The Rock itself being a character. The movie reminds us that a plan that looks good on paper, but it may not work in real life. This movie may have been made for the small screen, but it leaves you with the feeling that you just watched a big masterpiece.