Unchained (film)

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Unchained (film poster).jpg
Directed byHall Bartlett
Produced byHall Bartlett
Written byHall Bartlett
Based onPrisoners are People
by Kenyon J. Scudder
StarringElroy Hirsch
Barbara Hale
Chester Morris
Todd Duncan
Johnny Johnston
Music byAlex North (song "Unchained Melody")
CinematographyVirgil E. Miller
Edited byCotton Warburton
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • January 19, 1955 (1955-01-19)
Running time
75 min.
CountryUnited States

Unchained is a 1955 prison film directed by Hall Bartlett and starring Elroy Hirsch, Barbara Hale, Chester Morris, Todd Duncan, and Johnny Johnston. Based on the non-fiction book Prisoners are People by Kenyon J. Scudder, it is most remembered for its theme song, "Unchained Melody".


Steve Davitt is in a medium security prison and is struggling with two options: finishing his sentence, or seeing his wife and family by escaping the prison. After receiving what he believes to be an unjust recommendation from the Adult Authority Board, he attempts his escape but is surprised by a trustee-inmate whom he has befriended. A fist-fight ensues. Steve Davitt wins the fight, heads for the fence to escape. After he starts climbing the fence, he hesitates twice, looks back and sees his trustee-friend on the ground and decides against going over the barbed wire fence after all. The scene ends with Steve Davitt turning around and heading back to the medium security prison.




The film was based on the career of Kenyon J. Scudder, former supervisor at Chino prison in California, as detailed in Scudder's book.


Former football player Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch played the lead character, while other inmates were played by Chester Morris and Jerry Paris (later of The Dick Van Dyke Show), among others. Others in the cast included Peggy Knudsen and Barbara Hale, who appeared as women visiting the prisoners. Jazz musician Dexter Gordon has a small, uncredited role in the film, that of a saxophone player in the prison jazz band.


The film was shot at the correctional facility in Chino, California, where Gordon was then serving time for possession of heroin.


The theme song "Unchained Melody" was written by Alex North and performed by Todd Duncan. This song became a #1 R&B hit in 1955 for Al Hibbler and for Roy Hamilton, with Hibbler's version also reaching #3 on the Billboard Chart. In the UK, it was a big hit for singer Jimmy Young, occupying the British Hit Singles No. 1 spot for 3 weeks in the spring of 1955. It became a #4 pop hit for the Righteous Brothers in 1965. Their version enjoyed a major revival in 1990, thanks to its use underscoring the iconic love scene between Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in the hit 1990 film Ghost.



  • Oscar nomination: Best Music, Original Song: "Unchained Melody" - Music by Alex North; Lyrics by Hy Zaret

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