Bribery, tyranny and anal rape: the world of a Hollywood prison guard is a murky one. This month sees the release of The Prison Where I Live, a powerful little documentary film about a Burmese satirist serving time as a political prisoner in Myanmar and to celebrate (because political oppression seems like the kind of thing that should be celebrated) we thought we’d bring you a run-down of our favourite movie prison guards of all time…
Certainly the biggest diva of all cinematic prison guards, Mama Morton has a lot going for her besides her fantastically alliterative name and smashing rack. She not only controls who gets their contraband and when, but like a female Max Clifford, she also decides which of her fame-hungry inmates get their face in the papers the next day. She’s half-surrogate Mummy and half-ruthless PR woman and we can only admire her as she looks forward to an early retirement after a career of corruption.
OK, so they’re not strictly speaking prison guards, but they do (sort of) keep an eye on the various murder suspects thrown into the cell in the sleepy village of Sanford. Keeping audiences guessing until quite late on as to whether Turner is just one Sergeant with schizophrenic tendencies, or twin police officers with very different personalities, Bill Bailey plays the two Turners and their various hairstyles to perfection.
Kevin Bacon plays a sadistic guard at a juvenile detention centre who systematically rapes and abuses four new inmates sentenced to time inside for almost killing a hot-dog vendor. Sure, Nokes eventually gets his comeuppance when he gets shot in the face, but we can’t help feeling this isn’t the retribution he deserves, given the lasting distress he caused the young whippersnappers. It wasn’t cool when Gary Glitter did it, and it’s not cool now, Nokesy.
Frankly, Tom Hanks’ Paul Edgecomb is exciting just because it’s fascinating to think that Forrest Gump grew up from his days as a ping-pong champion and record-breaking runner to be a prison guard. However, as a world-weary and cynical screw who’s shown the light by a convicted murderer, Edgecomb has integrity and a conscience, which is most unusual amongst Hollywood wardens and for this, we salute him.
Strother Martin is sadism personified as the relentlessly cruel Captain in this 1967 flick. Taking a personal dislike to Cool Hand Luke, the warden force-feeds him, makes him dig a grave over and over again and whacks the poor guy in a box whenever it takes his fancy. Captain’s stand-out line, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate,” is enough to send shivers down the spine of even the most hardened maverick criminal.
As if being criminally insane and having to be locked up as a consequence wasn’t bad enough, the poor inmates at the Oregon State Mental Hospital have to contend with the truly terrifying Nurse Mildred Ratched. Employing a number of techniques to maintain order, the crazy-eyed battle axe removes patients’ medication, food and toiletries whenever she feels like it and constantly humiliates and belittles everyone around her. Ultimately though, the act that won her a place in our countdown was having Jack Nicholson lobotomised. As movie lovers, we can’t let anyone get away with doing such a thing to one of the acting greats.
Captain Hadley isn’t at number four on our list for his eagerness to circumvent Maine tax laws with the help of prisoner Andy Dufresne; there are enough corrupt prison wardens out there in movie land already. No, Hadley gets a mention for his awe-inspiring temper. Delivering casual beatings left, right and centre, Hadley has an uncontrollably short fuse that would be comical if it didn’t leave so many inmates paralysed from the waist down. It might make for uncomfortable viewing, but we say well done that man for bringing casual physical abuse back into fashion.
Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goeth is a Nazi prison guard who isn’t satisfied with sending thousands of innocents to their death (and what blood-thirsty sociopath would be?), so he kills hundreds of them himself as and when he feels like it. Men, women, children and puppies (probably) – he doesn’t care. If he isn’t working them to death or gassing them in the shower, he’s shooting them at point-blank range. His mere presence is enough to make grown adults burst into tears. And scariest of all: he actually existed.
Why is Robert Redford’s prison warden at number two on our list? Simply because he’s one of the few decent ones. Entering the prison undercover as one of its inmates, Henry Brubaker witnesses the corruption and abuse carried out at the hands of the guards and after revealing himself to be the new warden, sets about righting all the prison’s wrongs. He might look like a bit of a wet blanket compared to the other sadists on this count-down, but with such good intentions, it’s hard not to see Brubaker as one of the greats.
Soul-sucking fiends and guards at the Prison of Azkaban, the dementors grow in forests like funghi and their very presence makes the air around them grow cold and dark. Factor in their ability to fly and become invisible and the fact that they don’t even have eyes and it’s easy to see why the little buggers are the most gruesome and effective prison guards of all time. When you’re beating Nazis and rapists to the top-spot, it’s probably time to reconsider the message you’re sending out to others…