Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison is a 1951 American film noir crime film directed by Crane Wilbur starring Steve Cochran and David Brian. Set in Folsom State Prison in California, the film was seen both in the United States and Europe.
Country singer Johnny Cash saw this movie while serving in the United States Air Force in West Germany in 1952, and used it as an inspiration for his hit song "Folsom Prison Blues," which he recorded numerous times between 1955 and his death in 2003.
The film was featured in the 2005 biographical film Walk the Line, in which Cash (played by Joaquin Phoenix) and other Air Force personnel are depicted seeing the film.
During the 1920s, before the 1944 California prison reform, Warden Ben Rickey (Ted De Corsia) rules Folsom Prison with ruthless control. He believes that prisons should be used more for punishing the captive convicts, rather than using the time that they would spend behind the walls of the prison as an opportunity to reform their unruly behavior and repeated returns to a life behind bars. His methods of control are violent, torturous, and meant to beat the prisoners into submission.
Chuck Daniels (Steve Cochran), one of the prisons toughest inmates, and his group of followers are intent on arranging a successful escape. However, after a botched escape attempt which is thwarted by Rickey, a riot ensues resulting in the deaths of two correctional officers and a few prisoners. Rickey, with his iron fist, doles out punishments that are severe and extremely cruel to any and all prisoners who are connected to the incident.
With the violence increasing, and the warden's inhumane treatment towards the inmates, the board of directors of the prison decide to hire an assistant, Mark Benson (David Brian), to act as the captain of the guards. Mr.Benson believes that the inmates, although they have been convicted of the most heinous of crimes, deserve to be treated better and given an opportunity to change. He thinks that they should be educated on how to live on the outside, prior to release, in order to increase their chances of becoming productive members of society and reduce the rate of recidivism. Benson makes many changes during his employ at Folsom Prison including adding meat to the menu, allowing the inmates to talk amongst each other during meal times, and promoting rehabilitation programs such as employment help. Additionally, he makes changes to the way the guards do their jobs as well, by expecting the guards to step it up a notch by coming to work clean, behave in a professional way, and discontinue the senseless beatings of inmates that cause trouble.
The changes that Benson makes go against the wishes of the warden and he eventually leaves his post as captain of the guards. With Benson gone Warden Rickey reverts all reforms and the inmates retaliate with yet another escape attempt. A riot erupts and in the process many men are fatally wounded.