6.8/10
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28 user 10 critic

Hell's Highway (1932)

Passed | | Action, 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.

Directors:

Rowland Brown, John Cromwell (uncredited)

Writers:

Samuel Ornitz (by), Robert Tasker (by) | 1 more credit »
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Richard Dix ... Duke Ellis
Rochelle Hudson ... Mary Ellen
Tom Brown ... Johnny Ellis
C. Henry Gordon ... 'Blacksnake' Skinner
Oscar Apfel ... William Billings
Stanley Fields ... F. E. Whiteside
John Arledge ... Carter
Warner Richmond ... 'Pop-Eye' Jackson
Charles Middleton ... Matthew the Hermit
Clarence Muse ... Rascal
Louise Carter ... Mrs. Ellis
Sandy Roth Sandy Roth ... Blind Maxie
Fuzzy Knight ... Society Red
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Stars: Warren William, Lili Damita, Glenda Farrell
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Storyline

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

Taglines:

Heartpounding! Brutal! True! (original print ad) See more »

Genres:

Action | Crime | Drama

Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

RKO's David O. Selznick rushed "Hell's Highway" into production to compete directly with Warner Bros.' upcoming prison drama "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang". In fact it beat "Fugitive" to the screens by two months in the autumn of 1932, though it did not enjoy the critical or commercial success of the latter film. See more »

Quotes

Duke Ellis: [Chatting with a convicted bigamist] How many women did you really marry?
Matthew the Hermit: How many banks did you really rob?
Duke Ellis: Never more than one at the same time.
Matthew the Hermit: It takes nerves of steel to rob a bank.
Duke Ellis: It takes a lot of backbone to keep seven wives happy.
Matthew the Hermit: Yea, Brother!
See more »

User Reviews

Another Rowland Brown Gem
27 October 2011 | by dougdoepkeSee all my reviews

The story follows events in a southern chain-gang.

Catch those rolling cages the convicts are kept in. They'd even be sub-standard for wild animals in a circus. But then, this is a down and dirty look at a chain-gang work crew, circa 1932, where shooting a con is made easier by the bull's eye on their backs. And if a con misbehaves, like not working fast enough to make the road contractor more money, it's a time in the sweat box, which is like doing time in an upright coffin-- you walk in, they carry you out. Now all this might sound like a lefty screenwriter's fevered dream, but the prologue assures us that the abuses are based on fact.

Then too, the cons are toiling in the middle of one ugly nowhere, and when the place catches fire, it's big enough to take down Chicago. No wonder the cons are looking to escape, and being a prison movie, they do. In my book, the best scene is the luckless deaf guy who never hears the bullet coming. I hope his last minute mumbo-jumbo was enough to get him past the pearly gates—it's a moving and inspired moment.

Then too, Dix makes a convincing boss con, as does C. Henry Gordon as the brutal boss muleskinner. But my money's on the cadaverous Charles Middleton (the hermit) who's on prison vacation from three wives and apparently dabbles in the black arts as when he foresees doom in the stars. His graveyard voice and grim reaper demeanor are like no other and can chill you to the proverbial bone.

Of course, being a Rowland Brown directed film, there are passing references to homo-erotic behavior, (see especially his Blood Money {1933}). All in all, he manages to blend the diverse story elements, including the black men's chorus, into a forcefully memorable whole. Too bad his directing career was so brief. He was that rarest bird in old Hollywood—a genuinely independent spirit.

It's a bang-up 60-minutes from struggling little RKO that takes no prisoners, so to speak. More importantly, there's something topical about tax-supported labor being used to enrich private contractors, as in the movie. Too bad, this over-looked little gem was assigned to pre-Code oblivion.


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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

23 September 1932 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Liberty Road See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

RKO Radio Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Photophone System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

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