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Hell's Highway (1932)

Passed | | Crime, Drama | 23 September 1932 (USA)
Chain gang prisoners forced to construct a "liberty highway" for their overseer chasten under his brutal stewardship, causing Duke Ellis to mastermind a mass riot.



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Complete credited cast:
Johnny Ellis
Mary Ellen
Oscar Apfel ...
Warner Richmond ...
Matthew (as Chas. Middleton)
Louise Carter ...
Mrs. Ellis
Sandy Roth ...
Society Red


Chain gang prisoners forced to construct a "liberty highway" for their overseer chasten under his brutal stewardship, causing Duke Ellis to mastermind a mass riot.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Crime | Drama


Passed | See all certifications »




Release Date:

23 September 1932 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Gloria y hambre  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Photophone System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


February 1937, the PCA director wrote RKO that a certificate would be approved for re-release if some objectionable lines and scenes would be cut. However, no evidence that the film was ever re-released to theaters has been found. See more »


Referenced in Hollywood on Trial (1976) See more »

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User Reviews

Needs more to sing its praises
29 November 2003 | by (New York, New York) – See all my reviews

This film isn't well known enough, and its reputation pales beside that of "I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang." That being said, it should be noted that this film was released first and actually received fairly good notices. One can even speculate that Mervyn LeRoy may have seen it

  • there's one shot of chains being pulled through the shackles that is

common to both films.

Hell's Highway opens with newspaper stories depicting chain gang abuses
  • and unlike most films, it uses real newspapers such as the Seattle

Post-Intelligencer. Richard Dix is "Duke" - a hardened criminal, not an innocent victim of injustice, but it's never mentioned if he's committed any crimes worse than bank robbery. Dix is better here than in some other films in which I've seen his over-emoting - such as "Cimarron" which I've found almost unwatchable.

Early scenes in the film have Charles Middleton as Matthew - Ming the Merciless - as a character who seems to predate John Carradine's "Casey" in "The Grapes of Wrath" in being a rather touched preacher. He even resembles the lanky Carradine and coincidentally, Middleton also happens to appear in 1932's most famous chain gang film. Duke involves Matthew in a plan to aid his escape, but Duke turns back when he sees his younger brother Johnny (played by Tom Brown) has just arrived in the holding pen. While Duke tries to keep his sibling on the straight and narrow, he receives the wrath of his fellow prisoners who think that he's sold out to the screws. C. Henry Gordon, so memorable in a number of Charlie Chan films, is the primary villain, although Oscar Apfel's "Billings" - a contractor relying on convict labor is really the one setting policy. Wonder if he's the one who decided to have the prisoners wear large circular targets on their shirt backs, he's sure proud of his sweat box used for discipline.

Although the story may now seem by-the-numbers, it must have been fresh in 1932 being the first film to depict the horrors of the chain gang. Although not as hard hitting as the Warner film, it's hardly as "viewer friendly" as the much later "Cool Hand Luke." RKO's film may not have broken a thousand chains as did the Warner classic, but it makes a great companion piece, and is one of the best examples of a rival studio attempting to tread on Warner territory. There are some quick cuts, which combined with the running time of only 62 minutes, that give the impression that the film may have been longer before release - Dix was too big a property for a programmer.

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