Murder in the First (1994) - Rotten Tomatoes

Murder in the First (1994)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Murder in the First Trailers & Photos

Movie Info

This shocking prison drama was inspired by a true story. In 1938, Henri Young (Kevin Bacon), sentenced to Alcatraz for stealing $5, attempted to escape from prison with three other prisoners. One of the escapees was captured, and to curry favor with Warden Glenn (Gary Oldman), he informed on the others. Young was soon brought back to custody, and was to be punished by spending 19 days in solitary confinement. Nineteen days stretched into three years, in which Young was kept in a pit with no light, no toilet, no furniture, and nothing to read. Young emerged from solitary a vengeful madman, and he quickly murdered the convict who turned him in. Young was put on trial for the killing, and assigned a first-time public defender, James Stamphill (Christian Slater). Stamphill was horrified by Young's tales of the conditions at Alcatraz, and he used them as the basis of his defense for his client, believing that anyone would be driven to madness and murder if they had been treated the same way as Young. Murder in the First also features Embeth Davidtz, William H. Macy, Brad Dourif, and R. Lee Ermey. ~ Mark Deming, Rovimore
Rating: R
Genre: Mystery & Suspense, Drama
Directed By: ,
Written By: Dan Gordon
In Theaters:
On DVD: Jun 22, 1999
Warner Bros. Pictures


Kevin Bacon
as Henri Young
Christian Slater
as James Stamphill
Gary Oldman
as Associate Warden Gle...
Embeth Davidtz
as Mary McCasslin
William H. Macy
as William McNeil
Brad Dourif
as Byron Stamphill
R. Lee Ermey
as Judge Clawson
Mia Kirshner
as Adult Rosetta Young
Ben Slack
as Jerry Hoolihan
Stefan Gierasch
as Warden Humson
Alexander Bookston
as Alcatraz Doc
Herb Ritts
as Mike Kelly
Richie Allan
as Jury Foreman
David Sterling
as Inmate Rufus `Roy' M...
Michael Melvin
as Inmate Arthur `Doc' ...
Neil Summers
as Alcatraz Guard Whitn...
Nick Scoggin
as 2nd Inmate
Douglas Bennett
as 3rd Inmate
Joseph Richards
as 4th Inmate
Julius Varnado
as 5th Inmate
Tony Barr
as Winthrop
Rob Lee
as Newsreel Reporter
Gary Ballard
as Alcatraz Guard Swens...
Sheldon Feldner
as Man on the Street
Danny Kovacs
as Man on the Street
Randy Pelish
as Alcatraz Guard Whitn...
William Hall
as Man on the Street
Sonny H. King
as Alcatraz Guard Wimer
Eddie Bowz
as Alcatraz Guard
Brian Leckner
as Alcatraz Guard
Tim Winters
as Alcatraz Guard
James Keane
as Alcatraz Guard
Lance Brady
as Alcatraz Guard
Michael Merrins
as Alcatraz Guard
Ray Quartermus
as City Jail Guard
Lee E. Mathis
as City Jail Guard
Wayne Parks
as City Jail Guard
Warren Spottswood
as City Jail Guard
Thomas Fenske
as Newsreel Reporter
Robert Lee
as Newsreel Reporter
Wally Rose
as Shopkeeper
Amanda Borden
as Rosetta Young (age 9...
Eve Brenner
as Winthrop's Secretary
Joseph Cole
as Marshall Gates
Richard Kwong
as Chinese Monk
Gary Lee Davis
as Giant of a Man
Time Winters
as Alcatraz Guard
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Murder in the First

Critic Reviews for Murder in the First

All Critics (40) | Top Critics (14)

The figures are right, the investment looks good, but the emotional pay-off is minimal.

Full Review… | April 12, 2002
Globe and Mail
Top Critic

More than likely you will forgive the compromises -- the story of Henri Young needed to be told.

May 12, 2001
Rolling Stone
Top Critic

Woefully over-manipulative and over-the-top.

Full Review… | February 13, 2001
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

An example of what happens when a picture has everything going for it except good writing and good direction.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic

Though based on a true story, this grueling drama is peopled by characters that have been fictionalized into big house cliches.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Washington Post
Top Critic

Slater, who in certain shots looks curiously like Kevin Costner, is an actor with talent, but he is too young for this role, and not confident enough to dial down a little.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Murder in the First


A young convict imprisoned in Alcatraz murders a fellow inmate after spending three years being brutally beaten in solitary confinement. Murder in The First is a courtroom drama based upon the true story of a man who was transformed into a murderer on the brink of insanity by his merciless treatment at the hands of the American penal system in the infamous state prison. Kevin Bacon takes centre stage as the broken shell of a man and although his performance is a little affected, it's still a harrowing tale that shocked the nation at the time. The superior cast, including Gary Oldman as the cold and ruthless governor and William H. Macy as the district attorney looking for an open and shut case, are what make the film in general; the direction can be slightly clumsy and the script writer a little too fond of "dictionary definitions", but it's an important and moving story that the viewer cannot help but be drawn into. One of those films that works because it was a true story and although a little melodramatic its button pushing works for rather than against it as a result.

xGary Xx

Super Reviewer


James Stamphill: Unlike many men who lived long after, Henry Young did not die in vain. In the end he was not afraid. He lived and he died in triumph. If only we could all do that. 

"One broke his silence. The other broke the system."

I did not for the most part like Murder in the First. Most of that came from my general distaste for the lead, Christian Slater. Everything he does in this movie irritates me. The rest of the cast is amazing though, especially Kevin Bacon, who gives one of the better performances I have seen from him. Gary Oldman and William H. Macy are also good, but they have such small roles that they don't really affect my feelings toward the movie. 

Murder in the First is the true story of Henri Young, a man who was convicted of stealing $5 and sent to Alcatraz. He tried to escape, but was unsuccessful and ended up being put in solitary confinement. There was supposed to be a limit on how long a man could stay in solitary and that was 19 days. Henri was stuck there for three years and when he came out he killed the man who narced him out. The rest of the movie is an average courtroom drama that seems really fabricated. I don't that that is the case necessarily, but nothing the film really felt genuine. It seems as if a lot of liberties were taken in approaching this story.

It is still a worthwhile film to watch because of that performance from Kevin Bacon as Henri and of course because the story is a pretty interesting one. I just think this could have been done so much better and that it could have benefited from having a better lead. He isn't a terrible actor, but he is just all wrong in this role. Christian Slater seems more at home in movies like Very Bad Things. 

Melvin White

Super Reviewer

I thought this was just another boring prison drama, but it is based on a true story, which makes it slightly more interesting. If you like prison dramas, you'll like it better than me.

Aj V

Super Reviewer

Murder in the First Quotes

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– Submitted by Frances H (2 years ago)

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