Double prison movie review: Scum (1979) and Mean Machine (2001)


Original posted here and here as part of Rob and Jay’s Genre Grandeur.


Two British classics! Kind of. One British classic and another British….film.

Thanks to MovieRob for his usual tireless efforts in hosting another (great) Genre Grandeur and thanks to Jay from Life Vs Film for choosing such a cool genre as this month’s topic – prison films.

Now I have a bit of an obsession with prison stuff. Documentaries, autobiographical books, Banged Up Abroad…..and of course, prison movies. Love them. That’s why I had to review two.

Scum (1979)

Scum is actually one of my favourite films. Probably even top 10. Though it’s hard viewing at times and has a particularly harrowing, brutal story. It’s set in a boys borstal during the 1970s and shows basically (to cut a long story short) how unspeakably awful the places were. I’m sure detention centers are still fairly depressing places when they want to be but it’s hard to imagine them being a fraction as bad as they’re depicted in Scum where the weak don’t stand a chance. Violent and racist prison guards. Bullying which escalates to horrific extremes (and is inflicted by guards as well as the cons). And of course there’s the plain fact that no real ‘help’ is ever offered to the young offenders, rehabilitation is a faint dream and to be honest they’re barely even acknowledged as human beings at all.

I’m not sure if Scum is a film everyone would enjoy. It’s quite ‘old’, it’s a little bit grainy. It looks like it never cost that much to make. And it’s awfully violent, has fake blood that looks touch-a-nerve realistic and of course the infamous ‘greenhouse scene’ (which FYI I always fast forward). It’s a little bit hard to cheerfully advertise it.

But among all the depression and darkness there is some fun as well. A young Ray Winstone stars as hard-nut main character Carlin and comes with his own heap of (now famous) amusing one liners. The dialogue generally is excellent, the script was originally written as a television play in 1977 but deemed too violent to air, only released as a movie in 1979 when it was said that borstals had “reformed”. Another fun thing is picking out all the British actors who starred in the film barely out their teens and went on to become the more well known faces we recognise today. Okay there’s more of “he was in The Bill” than “yeah and he won that Oscar” but it’s still fun spotting them.

Mean Machine (2001)

And so on to the complete opposite end of the prison movie spectrum we now have Mean Machine, an utterly ludicrous film about a disgraced footballer (played by disgraced footballer turned actor Vinnie Jones) who is sent to prison and ends up playing on the prison team, shagging the receptionist, winning the respect of his suspicious peers, foiling a dangerous plot and getting in a few pickles, fights and such. I believe America made a sub-sub-sub-standard version starring Adam Sub-Sandler.

Yes Mean Machine is stupid. Yes it’s hugely (and I can’t stress that enough) inaccurate as prison life occasionally looks more like a lads holiday in Magaluf. It’s also cliché, corny and I suppose pretty much pointless at the end of the day but it’s still a lot of fun. The soundtrack is brilliant and I say that sternly and sincerely this time – meaning it ACTUALLY is brilliant, not just a crazy guilty pleasure film that I’m taking the opportunity of a review to rant about.

It also has a great cast that works well together and gives the film its energetic, entertaining feel. All of the actors are recognisable from other, good British films (such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and some of them are well known too (Jason Statham, Danny Dyer). The casting is perfect and makes the film that bit better. The only person missing is Lovejoy (Ian McShane) and I can only assume he was super busy and had to say no. I know I’ve gone off on a tangent but what more can I say. Mean Machine is a fluffy, likable film that doesn’t depict realistic prison life in the slightest. Not unless cons are literally allowed to do what they like, though the Daily Mail would have us believe that’s true anyway.

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About emmakwall

Films, books, soundtracks, good humour
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10 Responses to Double prison movie review: Scum (1979) and Mean Machine (2001)

  1. I have seen neither of those, but will have to keep an eye out for them as I love prison films. Good stuff Ems!

  2. vinnieh says:

    I am putting Scum on my movies to watch list now.

  3. beetleypete says:

    Scum and Mean Machine. No comparison really. The cast of the latter was pretty good, but ultimately wasted on fluff. Young Winstone (see what I did there?) was unstoppable as Carlin. Memorable, real acting, totally believable. A powerhouse of a film, and one of the great modern British dramas.
    Mean Machine? Enough said.
    As ever, Pete. XXX

  4. MIB says:

    Whoooo! Scum IS in my top 10 all time fave films! 😉 It was the first film I ever saw that made me realise there was more to cinema that just escapist entertainment.

    “Name and number!!” 😛

    • emmakwall says:

      Great quote!! Very pleased you’re such a big fan too 🙂 It really is a brilliant film and agree with your comment about more to cinema than just escapist entertainment.

  5. movierob says:

    tnx 4 participating Ems!!

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