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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>
DA Brady sends young Graham to prison unjustly, and must redeem himself once he becomes the prison's warden.
The credits indicate icon Howard Hawks as the director; IMDb uncharacteristically lists no one; while Hawks' bio-site states he's the uncredited helmsman. I include this rather puzzling movie pedigree because I see very little of Hawks' characteristic style on screen. He may well have been adjusting to the new factor of sound (as others point out), but whatever the reason, the screenplay could have been filmed by any number of solid Hollywood craftsmen.
The movie itself has been made several times over, so the material is familiar. But except for Huston's dynamic performance and Karloff's formidable presence, there's not much to recommend beyond the story itself. The prison yard scenes are riveting with their marching phalanxes of inmates. Sort of like a non-musical Busby Berkeley. I also like that early scene where DA Brady (Huston) strips away shady lady Gertie's thin façade of respectability. To me, its spirited air bespeaks Hawks' guiding hand, as does Brady's surprisingly intense grilling of Graham. However, what should be a highlight, Ned's (Karloff) revenge killing of the squealer, is unnecessarily down-played for this pre-Code period.
Note how we're led to respect the inmates' code of conduct even though they are convicted criminals. Both the law and the inmates have their respective codes, but more importantly, the codes may well be linked by a common sense of justice. When, for example, those codes are broken by the squealer, on one hand, and by head guard Gleason, on the other, we're led to sympathize with the respective acts of retribution, bloody though they undoubtedly are. And since both acts are carried out by the hulking Ned, he becomes something of an avenging angel despite his gruesome appearance. It's the ambiguities of the two codes, united, perhaps, by a common sense of justice that suggests an interesting subtext to the story.
Anyway, in my little book, this is a Walter Huston showcase, proving again that an actor of less than handsome appearance could carry a Hollywood movie.
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