The Mayor Of Hell (1933) DVDRip (SiRiUs sHaRe).avi
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The Mayor Of Hell (1933)
Five members of a teen-age gang, including leader Jimmy Smith, are sent to the State Reformatory, presided over by the melodramatically callous Thompson. Soon, Patsy Gargan, a former gangster appointed Deputy Commissioner as a political favor, arrives complete with hip flask and blonde. Gargan falls for activist nurse Dorothy and, inspired by her, takes over the administration to run the place on radical principles. But Thompson, to conceal his years of graft, needs a quick way to discredit Gargan...
James Cagney ... Richard 'Patsy' Gargan
Madge Evans ... Dorothy Griffith
Arthur Byron ... Judge H.J. Gilbert
Allen Jenkins ... 'Uncle' Mike
Dudley Digges ... Mr. Thompson
Frankie Darro ... James 'Jimmy' Smith
Sheila Terry ... Blonde with Mike
Robert Barrat ... Fred Smith, Jimmy's Father
Allen 'Farina' Hoskins ... Joliet 'Smoke' Hemingway (as Farina)
Harold Huber ... Joe, Gargan Henchman
Dorothy Peterson ... Mrs. Smith, Jimmy's Mother
G. Pat Collins ... Brandon, Head Guard (as George Pat Collins)
Edwin Maxwell ... Louis Johnson
John Marston ... Hopkins, Children Society's Lawyer
Director: Archie Mayo / Michael Curtiz (uncredited)
James Cagney, racketeer and political ward heeler, get to become a Deputy Commissioner of Corrections and visits a boys reform school. The catch is that Cagney is not in it for the graft, he genuinely wants to make a difference in the lives of the kids there because he comes from a background like their's.
The villain of the piece is Dudley Digges who is a grafting chiseler and a sanctimonious hypocrite to boot. One of the subtexts of the plot of The Mayor of Hell is that these kids are mostly immigrants and those that judge them and are in positions of power are those who are here a few generations. Note in the mess hall scene as Digges offers a prayer of thanks for the food they are about to receive, Digges is eating well, but the kids are getting quality you wouldn't feed to your pet.
Cagney has his own troubles back in the city with some of his henchmen and he has to take it on the lam. That puts Digges back in charge and setting up the film for it's climax.
The Mayor of Hell was a typical product from the working class studio. And because it was pre-Code it gets pretty gruesome at times. A later version of this, Crime School, with Humphrey Bogart and the Dead End Kids, was a more sanitized remake.
Although Cagney is fine in the lead role as is Madge Evans the school nurse, the acting honors go to Dudley Digges. Hard to believe that the same man could portray the drunken, but kindly, one legged ship's surgeon in Mutiny on the Bounty. But Digges is a fine player and a joy to watch in every film he's in.
This film is not shown to often because of the racial and ethnic stereotypes it portrays. A whole lot of minorities would be offended today. Still it's a fine film.
Interestingly enough a few years ago the film Sleepers came out and it touched on some of the same issues. I guess films about reform schools don't change in any time.
At first viewing, The Mayor Of Hell seems like a step backwards for Cagney after his successes in films such as The Public Enemy and Taxi, because it feels so low budget.
It feels more like a showcase for Frankie Darro than anything else, with Cagney just drafted in to a supporting role to give the movie some box office appeal.
Frankie Darro plays Jimmy Smith, the leader of a street gang sent to a reform school for petty crimes. The courtroom scene where he is sentenced, tries to define the characters of these boys by explaining the cause of their delinquent ways, Smith is no good because his dad is no good and so on.
In the Reform School, the boy's soon find out that it is the most inappropriately named institution ever, as there is virtually no schooling and even less reform, as the treatment dished out to them is just as bad as the food they are forced to eat, courtesy of cruel Warden Thompson, (Dudley Digges). In fact the only person that seems to care about the welfare of these boys is Nurse Griffiths, (Madge Evans), who is always vocal in her protests regarding the treatment.
Enter Deputy Commissioner, Patsy Gargan (Cagney), although he himself is not the paragon of virtue that you would expect of a man in such a position. He is in fact an gangster on the payroll of a mob run political machine. He reluctantly goes to the school on a mandatory fact finding mission, and within minutes of his arrival, Jimmy Smith is bought before the warden, and Gargan witnesses first hand the brutality that the 'inmates' endure. In a vain attempt to escape, Smith leaps at the barbed fence but is yanked down by the guards and is sent to the medical block.
It is in the infirmary, that Gargan meets Nurse Griffiths and though the course of their conversation and by seeing some of the other boy's that have had the same brand of 'treatment', he comes to realise that he has in fact come to a torture chamber as opposed to a house of correction.
He appeals to his 'superiors' to take over the school full time, although his main motivation at this stage is to gain the affections of Nurse Griffiths.
Together they start to instigate some much needed changes, such as better food, no beatings and no guards. The boy's are also instructed to install their own justice system, whereby, the boy's will learn tolerance and reform by governing themselves in their own mock court.
The new 'Mayor' of what was formerly known as 'Hell' (hence the movie's title), is Jimmy, to whom Gargan has developed a genuine liking. It is through these new conditions that Jimmy and the other boys start to learn about right and wrong and the first seeds of reform are planted and the boys develop endearing personality traits such as responsibility, adulthood and friendship.
Warden Thompson, however, disapproves of the new approach and wants to expose Gargan as a crook. Gargan himself hands him the ammunition, as after heading back to the city to sort out problems with his 'less legal' businesses, he accidentally shoots one of his disloyal goons.
Although the shooting was not fatal, Gargan flees for the state line just in case the guy dies and he's wanted for murder. He telephones Warden Thompson, and gives strict instructions that no changes are to be made while he's out of town on 'business', but the resourceful Thompson finds out the real reason why Gargan has fled, and convinced he won't be returning, reverts the school back to the house of horrors it once was, only this time and with revenge in mind, it's twice as bad.
Unable to cope with the return of Thompson's harsh regime, Nurse Griffiths resigns and with his last obstacle out the way, Thompson's punishments become more severe, with tragic consequences.
After one of the boy's dies of exposure after a spell in 'The Cooler', the other boys, led by Jimmy, revolt and overthrow the guards. They put Thompson on trial for murder in their own courtroom.
Nurse Griffiths visits Gargan and explains what has happened to the school in his absence. Fuming with rage, Gargan risks arrest by driving back to the school to stop Thompson once and for all. However, the boy's have done the job for him, as after being found guilty of Murder, Thompson is chased by the frantic mob of delinquents, taking sanctuary on the roof of a barn, the boy's have no second thoughts about setting the barn on fire, forcing Thompson to choose between death by fire or death by falling, it is the latter that transpires, and minutes later Gargan arrives at the school and is determined to stop the boy's from spending the rest of their lives in jail by quashing further unrest. It is only when the boy's realise that Gargan has taken a huge personal risk to save them that he is successful.
The conclusion made by the authorities, is that Thompson's death was bought about by his own vicious actions, and nobody else will be made accountable. Gargan is also in the clear as his shooting victim is expected to make a full recovery. Gargan get's his girl, and thrilled at the difference he has made to the boy's lives, he quits the rackets for good and becomes the school's Governor full time.
The movie is very entertaining indeed especially considering Cagney is playing 'second banana' to Frankie Darro despite having top billing. Allen Jenkins is great as Cagney's right hand man, although it's a shame he was not given more to do as he could have given the movie some much needed comic relief, although the subject matter may have deemed that slightly inappropriate.
Not the best of Cagney's early picture's. but enjoyable nonetheless.
Before the Dead End Kids, there was Frankie Darro. Forgotten today, he epitomized angry desperate youth during those early depression years. Here he comes across with his usual hot-headed intensity, enough to make up for a nonthreatening small size. In fact, Darro acts a lot like a younger version of Cagney, which is no accident since the story line depends on Cagney seeing a lot of himself among the brutalized boys of the reform school. Without that, his transformation from racketeer to reformer makes little sense.
Some good scenes, such as the regimented mess hall with its robotic commands and synchronized quick-step. Also, the movie really comes alive during the well-staged riot scene. The raging mob, flickering shadows and wildly burning torches create a disturbingly hellish scene befitting the title. Still, unless I missed something, the mob really is responsible for the cruel Dudley Digges death, allowing the boys to get away with murder or at least manslaughter no matter how much Digges deserves it. This may be an example of justice prevailing over the law during those pre-code days.
Showing how closely the school's operation is tied to greedy political patronage provides an interesting touch. Nonetheless, Cagney's conversion from corrupt ward healer to the George Washington of a boy's republic remains something of a stretch. And I'm sure the stereotype of the Jewish kid may have brought some chuckles in that day, but not in this post-holocaust period. Then too, the black kid's dad may be a crude stereotype, but the boy isn't, participating importantly in republic activities. Notice how subtly his role emerges, probably so as not to offend some audiences. Still, it was a nervy move for the time. Notice also, how deglamorized the boys are. With the many shapes and sizes, they look as though they were recruited off the streets-- another nice touch.
As in most Warner Bros. pictures of the time, there's an atmosphere of New Deal reform, embodied here by the understanding judge who's willing to try unorthodox methods to remedy social ills. All in all, the film stands as an entertaining period piece, with a humane message that stands the test of time.
James Cagney (The Yankee Doodle Dandy Boy) was just starting his career and was able to perform as a gangster and also a social worker for a Boys Reform School which is being run by corrupt politicans. The reform school inmates are underpriviledge minors from the streets of New York, like the "East Side Kids" who were poor and uncared for during the great Depression. In the final scenes, there is a trial held by the reform school boys with flaming torches and a barn which is set on fire and a big leap by the corrupt warden. I noticed that they did let the horses out of the barn first. This film is not shown very often and I really can understand WHY!