An altruistic department-store owner hires ex-convicts in order to give them a second chance at life. Unfortunately, one of the convicts he hires recruits two of his fellow ex-convicts in a plan to rob the store.
Mr. Morris, the owner of a large metropolitan department store, gives jobs to paroled ex-convicts in an effort to help them reform and go straight. Among his 'employed-prison-graduates' are Helen Roberts and Joe Dennis, working as sales clerks. Joe is in love with Helen and asks her to marry him, but she is forbidden to marry as she is still on parole, but she says yes and they are married. In spite of their poverty-level life, their marriage is a happy one until Joe discovers she has lied about her past, in order to marry him. Disillusioned, he leaves, goes back to his old gang and plans to rob the department store.Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Most people think if they pay a few dollars to a community chest and good will agencies and so on, they've done their duty and they can shrug aside all responsibility. But you've got to do more than that.
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What a fascinating little film, on a variety of levels. There is an expressionism that would have made Elmer Rice proud as well as a distinctly European approach. It feels as if it could be either a German product or from much earlier in the '30s when Hollywood was still in an experimental phase of self-discovery. There is nothing quite like it out there.
This is pure Fritz Lang, coupled perfectly with Charles Lang Jr.'s photography, with Kurt Weill's music jumping in abruptly to make you catch your breath. The blend of comedy and drama is smooth.
The plot line is familiar to this cast. A businessman makes a point of hiring parolees at his department store, where some are clearly having trouble adjusting. Joe has abided by the strict demands of his parole and his time is at last up, freeing him to marry Helen. But she has never told him that she too is an ex-con and still has several months of parole to serve. She has to tell lie upon lie to cover up the secret. Meanwhile, his old gang is nipping at him to join up again in another heist scheme.
Not for the last time, the film exposes the difficulties of staying straight, difficulties arising both from the system itself as well as peer pressure.
Some plot points are similar to Pick-up, a George Raft-Sylvia Sidney film of a few years earlier, but this story is much stronger. At this time Raft was in the middle of a five-year era when he was at his best - relaxed and in character, willingly joining in the sometimes unusual proceedings. Sidney is beautifully sympathetic as a criminal, always hoping two wrongs will make a right. What a one-of-a-kind screen presence she was. Her work with Raft always seems like two pals getting together again. That makes the wedding night sequence and the around-the-world honeymoon all the more entertaining.
The rest of the cast, from wonderful Harry Carey to cynical Roscoe Karns, turns in strong, imaginative performances. As odd as some moments might be, everyone is clearly "in on" Lang's vision.
There is a great scene of the gang reminiscing about their prison days that displays that vision full force. This is what the film is all about.
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