Murder in the First (film)

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Murder in the First
Murder in the first ver1.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Marc Rocco
Produced by Marc Frydman
Mark Wolper
Written by Dan Gordon
Starring Christian Slater
Kevin Bacon
Gary Oldman
Embeth Davidtz
Brad Dourif
William H. Macy
R. Lee Ermey
Music by Christopher Young
Cinematography Fred Murphy
Edited by Russell Livingstone
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
January 20, 1995
Running time
122 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $23 million
Box office $17,381,942

Murder in the First is a largely fictitious 1995 film, directed by Marc Rocco, about a petty criminal named Henri Young (portrayed by Kevin Bacon) who is put on trial for murder in the first degree. The film also stars Christian Slater and Gary Oldman.


As a 17-year-old orphan, Henri Young (Kevin Bacon), steals $5.00 from a grocery store to feed himself and his little sister, both of whom are destitute. He is apprehended by the store clerk, and his sister is sent to an orphanage. Because that grocery store also housed a U.S. Post Office his crime becomes a federal offense. Young never sees his sister again and is sentenced to Leavenworth Penitentiary, Kansas. After later being transferred to Alcatraz, he participates in an escape attempt with two other prisoners.

The escape plan fails due to the betrayal of a fellow inmate, Rufus McCain (David Michael Sterling). Young is punished by being sent to "the hole" which is in Alcatraz's dungeons. Except for 30 minutes on Christmas Day in 1940, he is left in there for three years. The solitary confinement causes Young to lose his sanity. On release back to the general population, he experiences a psychotic episode in the prison cafeteria and attacks McCain, stabbing him to death with a spoon in full view of the prison staff and the other convicts.

Young is put on trial in San Francisco for first degree murder in what prosecutors and the public-defender's office believe is an open-and-shut case. Public defender James Stamphill (Christian Slater), a recent graduate of Harvard Law School, is given the case. After discovering the facts of Young's case, Stamphill attempts to put Alcatraz on trial by alleging that its harsh conditions caused his client to commit murder. The trial becomes highly politicized and contentious. Eventually Young is convicted of involuntary manslaughter, not first degree murder. He is returned to Alcatraz where he subsequently dies. The film concludes with ″The Rock's″ associate warden Milton Glenn (Gary Oldman) conviction of mistreatment and ban from working in the US penal system.

Production notes[edit]

Because the producers wanted authenticity, co-stars Bacon, Slater and Oldman spent some of their free time locked in jail cells while the movie was being filmed. Bacon lost twenty pounds for his role as Henri Young.[citation needed]

Filming during one of the courtroom scenes was interrupted by the 1994 Northridge earthquake.[citation needed]

Historical reality[edit]

The film makes numerous changes to historical events. The real Henri Young was not convicted of stealing $5 to save his sister from destitution. He had been a hardened bank robber who had taken a hostage on at least one occasion and had committed a murder in 1933. Young was also no stranger to the penal system. Before being incarcerated at Alcatraz in 1936, he had already served time in two state prisons in Montana and Washington. In 1935 he spent his first year in federal correctional facilities at McNeil Island, Washington before being transferred to Alcatraz.

The film ends with the fictional Henri Young being returned to the dungeons of Alcatraz in the early 1940s where he supposedly dies. In reality the real Young remained on Alcatraz until 1948 before he was moved to the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners at Springfield, Missouri where he stayed until 1954. While on Alcatraz he remained in the main cell block. Young was not kept in any dungeon as they had been closed almost a decade earlier. In 1954 Young was transferred to the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla to begin a life sentence for the murder conviction in 1933.

In 1972 after Young was released from Washington State Penitentiary at age 61, he jumped parole. According to Washington State authorities his whereabouts remain unknown. Young was born in 1911; if still alive as of 2015, he would be about 103–104 years old.

According to The San Francisco Examiner, April 16, 1941, the Defense stated in court that Henri Young was locked up in solitary confinement for over 3 years. This is taken directly from the paper, "Emphasis which they repeatedly laid on the fact that Young was in isolation or solitary confinement for more than three years—and that he drove his knife into McCain’s abdomen just eleven days after release form such confinement, made it clear that the defense hopes to show not only that Young was “punch-drunk” but that the punches were administered by the Alcatraz “system.”

Many of the ideas in the movie were taken directly from newspaper articles of the trials, including the ending scene where the jury only convicts Young of manslaughter, and requests that Alcatraz be investigated.[1]



Murder in the First received mixed reviews from critics, as the movie currently holds a rating of 50% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 36 reviews.


External links[edit]