Convicts 4
Directed byMillard Kaufman
Screenplay byMillard Kaufman
Based onReprieve; the Testament of John Resko
1959 Autobiography
by John Resko
Produced byA. Ronald Lubin
StarringBen Gazzara
Stuart Whitman
Vincent Price
Rod Steiger
Sammy Davis, Jr.
Ray Walston
CinematographyJoseph F. Biroc
Edited byGeorge White
Music byLeonard Rosenman
Distributed byAllied Artists Pictures Corporation
Release date
  • September 15, 1962 (1962-09-15)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States

Convicts 4, also known as Reprieve, is a 1962 prison film drama starring Ben Gazzara and directed by Millard Kaufman.[1][2][3] The film is a fictionalized version of the life of death row convict John Resko, who wrote his autobiography: Reprieve.

The film was initially released as Reprieve to "poor box office," and was released again as Convicts 4, also without commercial success.[4]

Factual background

On February 5, 1931, Resko and an accomplice, Frank Mayo, killed a grocer, Samuel Friedberg, during an attempted robbery of his store at 885 East 167th Street in the Bronx. Resko confessed to the crime. Both men were sentenced to death, and the jury recommended clemency for Resko, who was 19 and had a wife and infant daughter. The jury recommended clemency, with the foreman saying that he was a tool "in the hands of a hardened criminal."[5][6] Resko's sentence was commuted by then-Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt to life imprisonment after he testified against Mayo, who was executed on July 21, 1932.[7][8][9]

Resko became a noted artist while in prison and was freed shortly before Christmas 1949 by Governor Thomas E. Dewey.[10] The film mixes fact with fiction, turning the killing into a crime of passion.[11]


It is Christmas, 1931, and John Resko (Ben Gazzara) wants to give his baby daughter a new teddy bear. He goes, without money, into a shop and tries to get the shopkeeper to give it to him saying he will pay him later. The prosperous shopkeeper, who cleans his eyeglasses with a dollar bill, refuses. Resko grabs a gun he saw in the till and points it at the man. The shopkeeper lunges at Resko and is shot. Resko is condemned to the electric chair at the age of eighteen.

Pardoned by the governor at the last minute, Resko is sentenced to Dannemora Prison, where he has difficulty adjusting to life behind bars. It becomes even less bearable after hearing that his wife (Carmen Phillips) has left him and that his father (Jack Kruschen) has died while rescuing a drowning child to make up for the life that was lost.

Resko attempts to escape twice, and does long stretches in solitary confinement. But he is befriended eventually by fellow convicts like Iggy (Ray Walston) and Wino (Sammy Davis Jr.) who help him to pass the time. When he takes up art as a hobby, Resko's work is seen by an art critic, Carl Carmer (Vincent Price), who believes him to have promise.

In 1949, after 18 years in prison, Resko is released. His daughter (Susan Silo) and granddaughter are waiting when he gets out.



Resko was technical advisor of the film, whose prison sequences were filmed at Folsom State Prison.[4] Sammy Davis Jr. put on a show for the actual inmates after filming.

Critical reception and legacy

New York Times critic A.H. Weiler said the film "is forthright and serious in its attempt to limn a striking figure but is only rarely compelling or memorable."[12]

The New York Daily News gave the film three of four stars, and called the film "commendable" even though failed to substantiate its premise that becoming a good artist means that one is a "rehabilitated soul." The convicts are sympathetically portrayed as "sympathetic at heart and good for occasional laughs."[5]

Although the film did not find an audience in the theaters, it was played often on late-night teleivsion,[4] and is included in the 2008 anthology, 101 Forgotten Films.[13]

See also


  1. ^ Variety film review; April 4, 1962; reviewed as "Reprieve."
  2. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; April 28, 1962, page 63.
  3. ^ Monthly Film Bulletin review; 1962, page 115.
  4. ^ a b c Schiller, Ralph (2016-02-27). The Complete Films of Broderick Crawford. Lulu Press, Inc. ISBN 978-1-329-93016-2.
  5. ^ a b Reynolds, Ruth (17 January 1932). "Death House Inmates Set New Record". Daily News. p. 38. Retrieved 14 October 2021 – via
  6. ^ "SLAYER SENTENCED TO DIE.; John Resko, Who Killed Bronx Grocer in Hold-Up, Collapses". The New York Times. 1931-05-30. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-10-15.
  7. ^ "Resko Sentence is Given Commutation". The Post-Star. Glenn Falls, New York. Associated Press. 15 June 1932. p. 1. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
  8. ^ "Three Men Die in Chair; One Refuses Feast". Daily News. 22 July 1932. p. 3. Retrieved 14 October 2021 – via
  9. ^ "3 Die in Chair After One Spurns Last Feast (continuation)". Daily News. 22 July 1932. p. 8. Retrieved 14 October 2021 – via
  10. ^ "Life Termer Who Risked Death to Aid Dying Girl is Given Freedom". The Evening Times. Associated Press. 23 December 1949. p. 2. Retrieved 14 October 2021 – via
  11. ^ Masters, Dorothy (4 October 1962). "Paramount's Movie Based on Con's Life". Daily News. p. 73. Retrieved 14 October 2021 – via
  12. ^ Weiler, A.H (1962-10-04). "Screen: 'Convicts 4' Arrives". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-10-15.
  13. ^ Mills, Brian (2008-11-01). 101 Forgotten Films. Oldacastle Books. ISBN 978-1-84243-390-4.