Unchained (film)

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

Unchained is a 1955 prison film written, produced and directed by Hall Bartlett (the first film directed by 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 held in a medium security prison and is struggling with a choice between two options: serving his full sentence and returning legitimately to his wife and family, or escaping and ending up on the run. Having received what he considers to be an unjust recommendation from the Adult Authority Board, he decides to escape. However, he is surprised by a trustee-inmate whom he has befriended, and a fist-fight ensues. Davitt wins the fight, and heading for the barbed-wire fence starts to climb. He hesitates twice, and looking back to see his friend on the ground decides against escaping after all. The scene ends with him turning round and heading back to the 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 has since become a standard and one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century, most notably by the Righteous Brothers in 1965.[1] Over 1,500 recordings of "Unchained Melody" have been made by more than 670 artists, in multiple languages.[2] In 1955, three versions of the song charted in the Top 10 in the United States,[3] and four versions appeared in the Top 20 in the United Kingdom simultaneously, an unbeaten record for any song.[4][5] The song continued to chart in the 21st century.[6][7]




  1. ^ Dowling, Stephen (November 6, 2003). "Entertainment | Brothers in good company with hits". BBC News. Retrieved March 30, 2014.
  2. ^ "Unchained Melody". Unchained Melody Publishing LLC.
  3. ^ "500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone.
  4. ^ Philip Dodd, Paul Du Noyer (1999). The encyclopedia of singles. p. 222. ISBN 0-7525-3337-1.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  5. ^ Paul Simpson (October 2, 2003). The Rough Guide to Cult Pop. Rough Guides. pp. 246–247. ISBN 978-1-84353-229-3.
  6. ^ "Record Breakers and Trivia : Singles : Individual Hits : Number 1s". Every Hits.
  7. ^ Paul Sexton (November 24, 2014). "Band Aid 30's 'Do They Know It's Christmas' Opens at No. 1 in U.K. With Huge Sales". Billboard.

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