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A criminal known as Thunderbolt is imprisoned and facing execution. Into the next cell is placed Bob Morgan, an innocent man who has been framed and who is in love with Thunderbolt's girl, without knowing of their relationship. Thunderbolt hopes to stave off the execution long enough to kill young Morgan for romancing his girl. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
One of the earliest of over 700 Paramount productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by MCA ever since. See more »
Sternberg's first Talkie is virtually a retread of his UNDERWORLD (1927), with the same leading man George Bancroft no less. However, while ably flanked by his co-stars there, he is practically the whole show this time around (Fay Wray and Richard Arlen being no match for Evelyn Brent and Clive Brook) and, consequently, the role earned Bancroft his sole Oscar nomination (and the film's as well)! Anyway, the director's approach to Sound was not as experimental as may have been anticipated (resorting to Death Row histrionics and even a number of songs to showcase the format!) and the end result is hardly dazzling in this regard though the dialogue is surprisingly clean, i.e. audible, for such an early example. Conversely, the visual aspect of the film, usually the director's main concern, is greatly diluted here through the poor quality of the copy I watched which also sported forced German subtitles!
Bancroft is once again a gangster (as before, his activity remains undisclosed throughout, apart from lording it up in an almost exclusively-black nightclub!) and his moll eventually leaves him for another, younger and handsomer, man. Here, too, the mobster is caught and imprisoned in a wonderful scene where he shows compassion for a mutt, subsequently proving inseparable, thus preceding Raoul Walsh's HIGH SIERRA by 12 years! Yet, he ingeniously has his associates frame the rival for a murder they committed (the development of this particular plot strand is unfortunately rather muddled) and the hero winds up in the cell opposite Bancroft's. As in UNDERWORLD, Fred Kohler also appears here to antagonize the latter besides lanky warden Tully Marshall and an Irish guard whose name the protagonist continually tries to guess (with the droll pay-off coming at the film's very conclusion).
Wray and her mother plead with the gangster to do the right thing and clear Arlen of his crime but, of course, he will have none of that at the start. Again, however, Bancroft is softened and confesses his role in the young man's entrapment just hours before his execution is due; I have to wonder here why he, a first-time felon, is scheduled to die before the much sought-after "Thunderbolt"! yes, the film's title is a reference to the character's nick-name. In any case, the moll's own admission that she had left her lover for the gangster rather than the other way around makes the latter realize, as was the case in UNDERWORLD, that he is in the way and gladly accepts his fate. Incidentally, speaking of references to the director's earlier work, Wray and Arlen are made to undergo a hasty marriage here much like Bancroft himself and Betty Compson in THE DOCKS OF NEW YORK (1928)!
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