For some reason I thought this film was a talkie remake by Josef von Sternberg of his great silent Underworld. Although George Bancroft is again the star here (and won an Oscar nomination for best actor) this is an entirely different storyline.
Bancroft stars a a tough hood in love with Fay Wray. But she's trying to go straight with Richard Arlen, who works in a bank. A man hunt captures Bancroft and convicts him to death row. But even from the cell, Bancroft is able to frame Arlen for a murder during a ban robbery. Arlen is sentenced to death row and ends up across the hall from Bancroft. Will there be fairness? Will there be redemption? As in Underworld, Bancroft is terrific as the obsessed and all-powerful thug. His voice is great as he growls and groans and threatens. Wray looks stunning, and Arlen is good as the innocent man.
For a 1929 talkie, this film has its stagnant moments when the editors didn't know when to cut. But it also features some terrific work by von Sternberg.
The entrance scene into the jazz club is a barrage of trellises and picket fences... quite beautiful... and also boasts a really nice song from Theresa Harris (who usually played a maid). There's also a wondrous scene where Arlen has been hurt and is being tended by his mother (Eugenie Besserer). While's she's applying iodine, he pulls his hands away and the bottle smashes. Both try to clean it up and the scene ends in a giggling tickle fight. Totally unexpected and totally wonderful.
Fred Kohler plays a convict. Tully Marshall is marvelous is a jittery warden.
The ending is probably expected but is beautifully done.
15 out of 15 found this helpful