Dateline news segments of today are usually depressing, packed with crime, murder, and economic distress. However, the opening scene of Murder in the First is a rather upbeat Dateline report of a foiled escape attempt from Alcatraz. The guards are congratulated on their excellence in apprehending the escapees instead of being reprimanded for allowing the prisoners to get out in the first place. They are even quoted as being jubilant and showing off their battle scars, all with smiles on their faces. The news reports seem to be disjointed with the rest of the movie. Its peppy tone is very different from the gruesome treatment of the prisoners. This account of success on the guards part is a stark contrast to the following scene and the rest of the movie.
Henry Young stole $5 and tried to escape from Alcatraz, leading him to solitary confinement in the dungeons of the prison, with little human contact and hardly any sight of the outside world. The conditions were horrendous and inhumane. He was also abused in his time there. Young was whipped, clubbed, cut and shackled. His treatment left him both physically and mentally incapacitated. These vile acts committed against Young were very difficult to watch as he screamed in pain and anguish. It is disturbing to think that is the manner in which prisoners of the time were treated. Being isolated and tormented for years caused a significant amount of damage to Young. The film examines how Alcatraz’s inhumane treatment affect their prisoner’s psyches. It is because of his treatment that Young murders Russ McCain, almost immediately after he is released from the dungeon.
The short clips of news reports stand out during the film because they are incongruent with the rest of the movie. They carry a different tone than the subject matter. A reason behind their placement could be to demonstrate for the audience just how little accurate knowledge was presented to the general public at time about the prison. Especially, what is what really like on the island. They saw happy faces of guards and the warden instead of brutally beaten prisoners.
There is no mention of the treatment of the prisoners in the news reports. The dirty details are omitted to make the story have a happy ending. Shielding the public from the actual occurrences on the island. It isn’t until the Alcatraz is put on trial that the prison’s gruesome details get examined. No attention is paid to the to treatment of these prisoners. Much of the general population thinks they are horrible monsters. Little do they know spots in the prison are filled with some petty criminals for budgetary reasons.