“He Doesn’t Have My Permission to Die Yet!”: Twelve Evil Movie Wardens

“He Doesn’t Have My Permission to Die Yet!”: Twelve Evil Movie Wardens (photo)

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Nobody wants to go to jail. But if you’ve got to go to jail, just hope you don’t do it in the movies. Odds are if you’re going to movie jail, you’re going to wind up at the mercy of some jerk warden (or captain or superintendent or game show host of a dystopian future) who wants to torture you for kicks.

It happens time and again, most recently in this week’s “Gamer” where poor Gerard Butler plays an inmate who finds himself as a running man in a death race against the southern-accented treachery of Michael C. Hall. In honor of “Gamer,” here are 12 more corrupt and sadistic movie wardens who could scare anyone straight.

09032009_CoolHandLuke.jpgStrother Martin as The Captain
“Cool Hand Luke” (1967)

“What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate.” It’s not just the most famous line ever spoken by a movie warden; it’s one of the most famous lines in movie history. (The American Film Institute ranked it the 11th most memorable movie quotation of all time on their list “100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes”) Many movie wardens play at gentility: all eloquence, kind words, and good manners until the inevitable meltdown, but Strother Martin’s Captain has a downright grandfatherly presence in his early appearances: speaking warmly about his prison camp in that nasal Southern twang and quietly observing his charges from a rocking chair on his office’s porch. That approach might work with most of the inmates, but not with Luke Jackson (Paul Newman). The Captain gives Luke a preemptive stint in “the box” to ensure he doesn’t try to escape in order to attend his mother’s funeral; instead, it provokes Luke to try one escape after another. After his first failed attempt, the Captain parades the captured Luke in front of the other inmates; when Luke talks back, the Captain loses his cool. “Don’t you ever talk to me that way!” he screams. It’s then that the Captain says his famous line, perhaps most memorably because what he is trying to communicate should be entirely clear. It’s just that Luke refuses to listen.

09022009_CagedHeat.jpgBarbara Steele as Superintendent McQueen
“Caged Heat” (1974)

For a Roger Corman-produced women-in-prison exploitation picture, Jonathan Demme’s “Caged Heat” is awfully experimental. It features extensive dream sequences and some very thinly veiled subtext about feminism and sexuality. And yet even a film this willing to play with convention is still beholden to the evil warden syndrome. (It’s also beholden to the “women in prison tend to shower a lot syndrome” too, but that’s a conversation for another time.) Barbara Steele’s Superintendent McQueen even looks sinister with her schoolmarm clothes, slicked back hair, big glasses, and cold scowl. Slowly prowling the halls in her mechanized wheelchair, McQueen’s repressed, robotic demeanor stands in contrast with the sensual, free-spirited inmates. And, of course, she’s not to be trifled with — “We punish here as well as correct,” she warns. Though McQueen doesn’t win the award for most depraved prison employee — that would be the prison medical director who sedates his patients then molests them — she’s no saint, either. She tacitly condones his bad behavior by authorizing the doctor’s use of electro-shock therapy in order to sedate an agitated general population. Her only concern? Making sure he gets the women to sign the release forms before he turns them into vegetables. Experiments are well and good, but you’ve got to be covered in case they go bad, the same way you’d make an experimental women-in-prison film with lots of shower scenes.

09032009_TheLongestYard.jpgEddie Albert as Warden Hazen
“The Longest Yard” (1974)

It is a curious fact of prison movies, particularly those of the variety featuring corrupt or sadistic wardens, that they make us root for the criminals who make up the villains of just about every other movie involving cops and crooks. Consider “The Longest Yard,” the story of a football game between the prisoners and guards at a Florida jailhouse. Both sides play dirty, but we root for the cons. Why? Because the cons break the rules, but they do it for the right reasons. The guards cheat on the orders of their boss, Warden Hazen, who takes so much pride in his prison’s semi-pro football team he can’t bear to see them lose at the hands of the inmates. So he threatens their captain, former pro Paul “Wrecking” Crewe (Burt Reynolds), with an extended sentence if he doesn’t throw the game. (He’s previously issued his second-in-command a similar ultimatum: win this season’s championship or look for a new job.) So, yes, Crewe might lead the “Mean Machine” by sending one guy to the hospital with back-to-back intentional throws at his groin — but only in retaliation for the guards’ own sneaky moves. They cheat with integrity.

09032009_EscapeFromAlcatraz.jpgPatrick McGoohan as Warden
“Escape From Alcatraz” (1979)

Patrick McGoohan plays the evil Warden with icy fastidiousness. A stickler for personal grooming, he flicks out his gleaming nail clipper while speaking with Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood), the high IQ inmate who will mastermind the only escape from Alcatraz prison. Stalking around his office with a ramrod posture and daggers in his eyes, McGoohan is a frightening vision of bureaucratic amorality. He over-enunciates every word, snapping his jaw shut with military precision before harassing a pet bird in its cage. That this blunt metaphor is effective is a tribute to McGoohan’s controlled ferocity. He is the antagonist in Don Siegel’s otherwise austere drama, a film more concerned with the process of escaping than the escape itself. Siegel spends as much time attending to dirt disposal as the Warden does on his well-manicured fingernails. Without McGoohan’s juicy performance, “Escape From Alcatraz” would be as static as Bresson’s sublime prison movie, “A Man Escaped.” And despite the fact that Warden is clearly a dramatic construction doesn’t detract from his power, for whether he’s withdrawing paints from an aging artist or stamping on a memorial flower, McGoohan imbues him with an unforgettably soulless menace.


Grow TFU

Adulting Like You Mean It

Commuters makes its debut on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Jared Warner, Nick Ciavarella, and Tim Dean were once a part of Murderfist, a group of comedy writers, actors, producers, parents, and reluctant adults. Together with InstaMiniSeries’s Nikki Borges, they’re making their IFC Comedy Crib debut with the refreshingly-honest and joyfully-hilarious Commuters. The webseries follows thirtysomethings Harris and Olivia as they brave the waters of true adulthood, and it’s right on point.

Jared, Nick, Nikki and Tim were kind enough to answer a few questions about Commuters for us. Here’s a snippet of that conversation…


IFC: How would you describe Commuters to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Nick: Two 30-somethings leave the Brooklyn life behind, and move to the New Jersey suburbs in a forced attempt to “grow up.” But they soon find out they’ve got a long way to go to get to where they want to be.

IFC: How would you describe Commuters to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jared: It’s a show about how f*cking stupid people who think they are smart can be.

IFC: What’s your origin story? When did you all meet and how long have you been working together?

Jared: Nick, Tim, and I were all in the sketch group Murderfist since, what, like 2004? God. Anyway, Tim and Nick left the group to pursue other frivolous things, like children and careers, but we all enjoyed writing together and kept at it. We were always more interested in storytelling than sketch comedy lends itself to, which led to our webseries Jared Posts A Personal. That was a show about being in your 20s and embracing the chaos of being young in the city. Commuters is the counterpoint, i guess. Our director Adam worked at Borders (~THE PAST!!~) with Tim, came out to a Murderfist show once, and we’ve kept him imprisoned ever since.

IFC: What was the genesis of Commuters?

Tim: Jared had an idea for a series about the more realistic, less romantic aspects of being in a serious relationship.  I moved out of the city to the suburbs and Nick got engaged out in LA.   We sort of combined all of those facets and Commuters was the end result.

IFC: How would Harris describe Olivia?

Jared: Olivia is the smartest, coolest, hottest person in the world, and Harris can’t believe he gets to be with her, even though she does overreact to everything and has no chill. Like seriously, ease up. It doesn’t always have to be ‘a thing.’

IFC: How would Olivia describe Harris?

Nikki:  Harris is smart, confident with a dry sense of humor but he’s also kind of a major chicken shit…. Kind of like if Han Solo and Barney Rubble had a baby.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Nikki:  I think this is the most accurate portrayal of what a modern relationship looks like. Expectations for what your life is ‘supposed to look like’ are confusing and often a let down but when you’re married to your best friend, it’s going to be ok because you will always find a way to make each other laugh.

IFC: Is the exciting life of NYC twentysomethings a sweet dream from which we all must awake, or is it a nightmare that we don’t realize is happening until it’s over?

Tim: Now that i’ve spent time living in the suburbs, helping to raise a two year old, y’all city folk have no fucking clue how great you’ve got it.

Nikki: I think of it similar to how I think about college. There’s a time and age for it to be glorious but no one wants to hang out with that 7th year senior. Luckily, NYC is so multifaceted that you can still have an exciting life here but it doesn’t have to be just what the twentysomethings are doing (thank god).

Jared: New York City is a garbage fire.

See the whole season of Commuters right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


C'mon Fellas

A Man Mansplains To Men

Why Baroness von Sketch Show is a must-see.

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Mansplaining is when a man takes it upon himself to explain something to a woman that she already knows. It happens a lot, but it’s not going to happen here. Ladies, go ahead and skip to the end of this post to watch a free episode of IFC’s latest addition, Baroness von Sketch Show.

However, if you’re a man, you might actually benefit from a good mansplanation. So take a knee, lean in, and absorb the following wisdom.

No Dicks

Baroness von Sketch Show is made entirely by women, therefore this show isn’t focused on men. Can you believe it? I know what you’re thinking: how will we know when to laugh if the jokes aren’t viewed through the dusty lens of the patriarchy? Where are the thinly veiled penis jokes? Am I a bad person? In order: you will, nowhere, and yes.

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Huge Balls

Did you know that there’s more to life than poop jokes, sex jokes, body part jokes? I mean, those things are all really good things, natch, and totally edgy. But Baroness von Sketch Show does something even edgier. It holds up a brutal funhouse mirror to our everyday life. This is a bulls**t world we made, fellas.


Oh Canada

After you watch the Canadian powerhouses of Baroness von Sketch Show and think to yourself “Dear god, this is so real” and “I’ve gotta talk about this,” do yourself a favor and think a-boot your options: Refrain from sharing your sage wisdom with any woman anywhere (believe us, she gets it). Instead, tell a fellow bro and get the mansplaining out of your system while also spreading the word about a great show.

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Dudes, that’s the deal.
Women, start reading again here:

Check out the preview episode of Baroness von Sketch Show and watch the series premiere August 2 on IFC.


Happy Tears

Binge Don’t Cringe

Catch up on episodes of Documentary Now! and Portlandia.

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Photo Credit: GIFs via GIPHY

A brain can only take so much.

Every five minutes, all day, every day, ludicrously stressful headlines push our mental limits as we struggle to adapt to a reality that seems increasingly less real. What’s a mind to do when simple denial just isn’t good enough anymore?

Radical suggestion: repeal and replace. And by that we mean take all the bad news that keeps you up at night, press pause, and substitute it with some genuine (not nervous, for a change) laughter. Here are some of the issues on our mind.

Gender Inequality

Feminist bookstore owners by day, still feminist bookstore owners by night, Toni and Candace show the male gaze who’s boss. Learn about their origin story (SPOILER: there’s an epic dance battle) and see what happens when their own brand of empowerment gets out of hand.


From Candace’s heart attack to the rise of the rawvolution, this Portlandia episode proves that healthcare is vital.

Peaceful Protests

Too many online petitions, too little time? Get WOKE with Fred and Carrie when they learn how to protest.

What Could Have Been

Can’t say the name “Clinton” without bursting into tears? Documentary Now!’s masterfully political “The Bunker” sheds a cozy new light on the house that Bill and Hill built. Just pretend you don’t know how the story really ends.

Fake News

A healthy way to break the high-drama news cycle is to switch over to “Dronez”, which has all the thrills of ubiquitous adventure journalism without any of the customary depression.

The more you watch, the better you feel. So get started on past episodes of Documentary Now! and Portlandia right now at IFC.com and the IFC app.

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