A wily D.A.(Brady) gets a 10 year conviction of a young 20 year old (Robert Graham)who he knows killed a man in self defense. Years later Brady becomes warden of the prison holding Graham. When Brady realizes that 6 years of working in the prison jute mill has pushed Graham to the breaking point, he gives him a chance- a new job as his valet. Graham responds well and earns the respect of both the warden and his beautiful daughter. Graham's mettle is put to the test when he stumbles onto a prison murder committed by his cell-mate. He must choose between the criminal code of silence and the warden's strong persuasion to reveal the killer. Written by
Gary Jackson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Terrific acting highlights this pre-code prison-drama about an overbearing D.A. (Walter Huston) who sidelines an innocent man (Phillips Holmes) into prison where he learns the "criminal code" way of doing things. The D.A. eventually becomes the prison warden where he runs into contact with many of the men he sent away including the innocent one who will once again find himself at the wrong place during the wrong time. There's no question this Columbia film was made to cash in on the previous years THE BIG HOUSE but that doesn't mean we get a watered-down copy. Instead director Hawks takes a pretty simple storyline and adds various dimensions simply by showing the stuff in a raw and realistic detail. THE BIG HOUSE is certainly a classic but to me this is the better film of the two. What makes this film work so well are some amazing performances with Huston leading the way. There was no one in Hollywood better for a role like this and God knows that Huston played his fair share of hot-tempered, "my way only" type of characters. He brings a lot of energy to the role and manages to make the character very memorable with a performance that many would copy in the future. Another major plus is the supporting performance of Boris Karloff who pretty much steals the film. Karloff has an uncanny and natural performance that brings a certain rawness as well as a coldness that is a real joy to watch. He's the type of bad guy here you just want to love. Constance Cummings plays Huston's daughter and she's pretty good even though the screenplay offers her very little except to be a love interest for Holmes. As for Holmes, I think he gives a good performance but I'd say he's several notches below both Huston and Karloff. Again, it's a fine performance but at the same time if they had someone on the same level as the other two men the film might have been even better. Hawks makes the film as realistic and as raw as he can, which I guess you could say was a trademark during this early portion of his career. I think the film gets off to a somewhat slow start but picks up at the twenty-minute mark and pretty much sails home. The final thirty-minutes are pure Hawks magic and are the most powerful of these early prison films.
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