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Eagle Eye Media presents
Johnny Cash: A Concert Behind Prison Walls (1976)

"I've learned one thing. That when a man is at rock bottom, when there's no place else he can go, except up... that the only thing that's really important in this world to him is that somebody somewhere cares."
- Johnny Cash

Review By: Jesse Shanks   
Published: October 28, 2003

Stars: Johnny Cash, Linda Ronstadt, Roy Clark, Foster Brooks
Other Stars: Andrew Gold, Carl Perkins
Director: Dick Carson

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 00h:49m:42s
Release Date: September 23, 2003
UPC: 801213005291
Genre: country

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Johnny Cash was a giant in American music and very few artists have crossed so many genres and touched so many careers. Cash rode the wave of popularity that country music enjoyed in the 1960s to an award-winning singing career, weekly television series, and several television specials. A Concert Behind Prison Walls was an attempt to recapture on video the magic of Cash's earlier successful album releases recorded at prisons (At Folsom Prison and At San Quentin). But not even the addition of stars Linda Ronstadt and Roy Clark, along with comedian Foster Brooks, can save this show from being a very pedestrian document filmed before inmates of the Tennessee State Prison in Nashville.

With Cash's recent death, there has been a higher interest in the career and music of the "Man in Black." Cash turned out an astonishing range of performances in a 45-year career that began in the rockabilly era of the '50s at Sun Records with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. Cash was a part of the folk and rock scenes in the '60s, with his support of Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson. On his own, Cash has released such memorable country music classics as I Walk the Line, Ring of Fire, If I Were a Carpenter and The Ballad of Ira Hayes. "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash" was his intro as a television icon in the late 1960s and early '70s, with a variety show that brought many genres of American music together. In the last twenty years, Cash has assumed a status as an elder statesman still able to make a record that moved an audience.

Unfortunately, A Concert Behind Prison Walls, cannot be numbered among the best of Johnny Cash. His performances suffer from a certain off-handedness, which causes him to rush through the songs. Folsom Prison Blues comes in at a brisk two minutes and later, one of Cash's classic tunes, Hey Porter, is tossed off as part of a railroad medley, in little over a minute, as a rushed intro to The Wreck of Old 97 and Orange Blossom Special. It is only in the latter that Cash comes to life with some inspired harmonica and interplay with the band. A band, by the way, that includes his old friend, guitar legend Carl Perkins! Cash's performances end up with a very rushed and glib performance of A Boy Named Sue. Only in the slower Sunday Morning Coming Down, written by Kris Kristofferson, and the somber Jacob Green, does Cash approach the power that his emotional baritone can provide in a song. The show could have been much better with longer performances by Cash that emphasize the playing by his marvelous band, which has little hope of shining in the song selection here. In fact, his performance here is as bad as you will see Johnny Cash. It all seems very much like a poorly conceived episode of his television show.

Linda Ronstadt steals the spotlight with a performance that is straightforward and professional. Her band, led by guitarist Andrew Gold, hits all the right notes, and her singing is pure and lovely in her note-for-note renditions of several of her classics. Ronstadt's first segment begins with a heartfelt cover of the Eagles' Desperado and a rollicking You're No Good that raises the energy level of the show. However, the show switches to a three-song segment by Roy Clark, sandwiched between two unfunny Foster Brooks comedy routines. For those who have never seen Brooks, he specialized in portraying an inebriated man at a time when such things were more accepted. What he does to famous alcoholic Hank Williams' Half as Much is as unexpected as it is unusual. Clark is a great musician, and the country standard, Rolling in My Sweet Baby's Arms starts off Clark's segment, followed by his banjo rave-up, Shuckin' the Corn, which is a delight, but his That Honeymoon Feeling is the lowpoint of the hour. Ronstadt returns for her second segment, the high point of the whole show, with a potent rendition of Love Has No Pride and Silver Threads and Golden Needles.

Ultimately, this concert is a mixed bag and has little to recommend it, except the rarity of the performances. The disc claims to present a show that has not been seen much, but unfortunately there is a reason for that: it's just not that good, either as music or television. Only the Ronstadt tracks really have anything to offer to fans. Johnny Cash has countless, far better performances and Roy Clark has plenty of Hee Haw. Foster Brooks? Well, I am sure he has something somewhere that is worthwhile.

Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash)
Sunday Morning Coming Down (Johnny Cash)
Jacob Green (Johnny Cash)
Comedy Routine (Foster Brooks)
Desperado (Linda Ronstadt)
You're No Good (Linda Ronstadt)
Rolling in My Sweet Baby's Arms (Roy Clark)
That Honeymoon Feeling (Roy Clark)
Shucking' the Corn (Roy Clark)
Half as Much (Foster Brooks)
Love Has No Pride (Linda Ronstadt)
Silver Threads and Golden Needles (Linda Ronstadt)
Hey Porter (Johnny Cash)
Wreck of the Old 97/Orange Blossom Special (Johnny Cash)
A Boy Named Sue (Johnny Cash)

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The video transfer is grainy and murky, and looks very much like the television show that it is. Details are indistinct, colors are awful, and the show often looks like something that might be produced on local cable access. It seems to have been a poorly produced original and the disc does nothing to improve on it, merely reproduces it in its cheesy televison glory.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The audio offers Dolby 5.1 Surround, but it really isn't very good. I kept turning it down. There is just a tinny, brittle quality to the original television recording and the reprocessing didn't go well. The "2-channel stereo" really sounds very dense and unpleasant.

Audio Transfer Grade: D+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 14 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Not an extra to be found. What does this disc cost?

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

A Concert Behind Prison Walls is for Johnny Cash, Linda Ronstadt, Roy Clark, or Foster Brooks completists only. Only a few inspired moments to be found in a short 49-minute television special.


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