The first of many in a series depicting the harrowing prison existence of a convict who uses his wits and fists to survive. Leon Isaac Kennedy's character is thrown deep into the bowels of the prison system, where the only... more » consistent truth is kill or be killed. To show his strength and gain respect from the other inmates, Kennedy must distinguish himself as a boxer, taking on all comers to save his own skin and regain his pride as a human being. Surprisingly effective in its harsh detailing of violent prison life, the film addresses the dehumanization of prisoners without excusing their crimes. Thought of as an exploitation picture, Penitentiary rises above its roots to provide a blunt and passionate look at one man's struggle on the inside. --Robert Lane« less
"Wow, what memories; this movie is definately a cult classic. I remember going to the movies (I'm in Detroit) once every weekend to see this as long as it was at the Madison Theatre (not a theatre anymore). "Half-Dead" had a pretty successful career after this but I don't see any more of the cast anywhere. The warden was "Porky" in the Porky's movie; I believe Leon Isaac Kennedy learned the truth in Christ. Anyway, enough rambling....want a memory??? Pick this up!!"
Love this movie.
S. Cowen | 07/08/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I remeber watching this when I was a kid. A guy at work asked me to order this online for him. I decided to order if for me instead and loved it. Great film with some suprising good acting by everybody. The director had a small budget,but looks like he had a much bigger one. Great film and my favorite prision film ever. To bad part 2 sucked."
I can defiantly see why this is one of John Singleton's favo
Jenny J.J.I. | That Lives in Carolinas | 10/09/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This film was really good. Writer and director Jamaa Fanaka was still a student at UCLA and Penitentiary was the first starring vehicle for former disc jockey and future evangelist Leon Isaac Kennedy. If you don't know the story it goes like this; Too Sweet (Leon Isaac Kennedy) is charged with murder, and convicted despite his innocence; he's shipped off to a run-down prison where Jesse Amos (Donovan Womack), one of the prisoners, lords it over the other inmates. Too Sweet ends up sharing a cell with Half Dead (Badja Djola), a violent lunatic who is one of Jesse's musclemen. Too Sweet refuses to buckle under to the intimidation dished out by Half Dead and his cronies, even after seeing how they've "turned out" Eugene (Thommy Pollard), another new fish who has become Jesse's sexual slave. Forced to defend himself even though he hates violence, Too Sweet displays a genuine talent for fighting, and is persuaded to take part in the prison boxing tournament, where he could win a night with a woman or even his freedom. However, Too Sweet sees the deck may be stacked against him when he finds out his opponent is the horrible Half Dead.
After watching this I found the fight between Too sweet and Half dead particularly interesting. Through out this film you will also find some of the characters to be animated with there jail house humor and realism through others such as Too Sweet's trainer. The cinematography wasn't bad also. The use of the wide angle lenses to give the viewer a distorted view was impressive and the way some characters address the camera was interesting and strange at the same time. Some people say that part two is even funnier and I might give it a try later in the future.
This exploitation is a masterpiece, PENITENTIARY (1979) is especially worth watching because of its strange, neo-realism. An almost all-unknown cast (that also contributes a lot to the movie's appeal), realistic 1970s African American dialog and backgrounds, realistic and mind-bending scenes of perverse violence and huge doses of humor make this a blast in every department. It's a must-see if you're a fan of this genre and one to check out. "
Don't get locked up unless you can fight
Ryan P. Allen | New Jersey | 03/12/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This movie will make anyone clean up their act and get straight to keep from getting locked up. Either that or it will make you want to become a boxer in the slammer so you can hook up with chicks. This movie has some memorable scenes that will have you rolling. One of the rare times that the nickname "Too Sweet" in prison doesn't mean you are someones girlfriend."
Most Realistic Prison Movie Ever!
Seldom Seen | USA | 03/11/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Penitentiary. Wow! This is not your average, run of the mill, candy-coated prison movies. Be sure to fasten your seatbelt before taking off on this journey. After seeing it for the first time, it shocked me because I wasn't ready. However, after that, I basically became hooked. I simply cannot get enough of Penitentiary. The fight seen between Half Dead Johnson and Too sweet is the best raw, street fight type of battle you will ever witness on screen. The "Crazy Man" game, when Too Sweet jumped on Big Jesse, the (heterosexual) orgies in the bathroom, the final bout . . . I could go on and on about this movie, but I'll end here by saying if you are a fan of prison movies, you simply can't go wrong with Penitentiary. Too Sweet is the Man!"