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Film / Murder in the First

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"Prior to Henri Young, there had been five escape attempts. No one had made it. The reputation of Alcatraz as being inescapable was secure. Six inmates had died trying to escape. The ones who didn't die sometimes wished they had."
Opening Narration

Murder in the First is a 1995 prison and legal drama directed by Marc Rocco, starring Christian Slater, Kevin Bacon, and Gary Oldman.

In 1941, an Alcatraz prisoner named Henri Young (Bacon) is tried for murder after going berserk and ripping out the throat of a fellow inmate with a spoon. His execution seems inevitable; however, his lawyer James Stamphill (Slater) has other ideas.

This film provides examples of:

  • The Alcatraz: Alcatraz, oddly enough.
  • The Alcoholic: The former Alcatraz guard, which hurts his credibility as a witness.
  • Artistic License – History: The real Young was in fact convicted of bank robbery, and had several other convictions under his belt before this as well. The assistant warden did not maim him with a razor. He also killed McCain months after he was released from solitary, not an hour after, and some have claimed it was actually the result of a lover's quarrel. Young didn't die in Alcatraz, he was sent to another federal prison and served out his sentence, then did time in state prison for a murder which took place during one of his robberies. He broke parole in 1972 and disappeared-no one knows what his eventual fate was.
  • Berserk Button: "That's McCain, he put you in the hole."
  • Bittersweet Ending: Young gets thrown back in the hole and dies (possibly by suicide), however he dies knowing that his sister's safe and had a relatively happy life, he was only convicted of manslaughter and the jerkass warden's getting his comeuppance.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: James' brother is unsure whether his loyalty lies with him or the legal firm. He rats out his witness to the prosecution, however the closing narration claims that they made up in the end.
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Young ripped a person's throat out with a spoon.
  • Death Seeker: Young asks Stamphill to change his plea to guilty and get him the death penalty several times.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: For stealing $5 from a till to feed his sister, Young ends up being charged with a federal crime (since the store in the small town doubled as the Post Office) and ends up sent to Alcatraz to make some politician look good.
  • Driven to Suicide: It's implied that Young killed himself to escape solitary, with a note found saying that he was now free.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Young views going back to solitary as this, not without reason.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Young spends three years in solitary confinement after attempting to escape from Alcatraz. He does have some human contact during those years; unfortunately, the humans are very sadistic guards. When he's finally released from solitary, he snaps and kills the inmate who snitched on him and foiled the escape attempt.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The real Young was actually a hardened criminal with convictions for bank robbery and murder.
  • The Jailer: The assistant warden who puts Young in the hole is an unusual example, since he serves this purpose within a jail. He ends up being arrested and banned from working in the penal system.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: A rare dramatic example, when Stamphill tries to use a prostitute to get Young to co-operate.
  • Make an Example of Them: Why Young was sent to Alcatraz and why he was thrown in the hole for attempting to escape.
  • Maximum Fun Chamber: "The hole".
  • Reassignment Backfire: Stamphill's boss put him on the case because he didn't think it was possible to win it anyway. He becomes rather irritated when Stamphill starts taking on the entire prison service.
  • Unintentionally Notorious Crime: How Young ended up in prison for what would have been a petty theft. See Disproportionate Retribution above.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: So loosely that it has little in common with the actual course of events. Check The Other Wiki or see Artistic License – History above for more information.