Monday, October 12, 2009

Hell's House

Hell's House from 1932 is one of the precode era's social reform pictures. It is the story of a young man, living with his loving aunt and uncle after the death of his mother, who is befriended by a bootlegger.  In an effort to make a little extra money, young Jimmy (played by Junior Durkin) begins working for the bootlegger, is caught, and is sent to an horrific reform school, where the boys are routinely tortured by the cruel punishments. In an effort to save his dying friend Shorty, Jimmy escapes and tells his story to a newspaper.  Alas, it is in vain, Shorty dies from his punishment.  But Jimmy is saved when the bootlegger Kelly finally agrees to confess that he alone was responsible, and that Jimmy had no idea of Kelly's occupation.

It was strange to see Pat O'Brien playing such a callow fellow.  One is not used to seeing him as a villain.  And Bette Davis is in a very minor role as Kelly's girlfriend, a sweet woman (NOT a moll), who is horrified when she learns of Jimmy's fate, and that her boyfriend was the cause.

This is not a great movie by any means, but interesting to see the social concerns of the era. Certainly, the boys' lives in the detention center are no walks in the spring rain, but the "horrors" are mild by comparison of what we would see today. See it for an opportunity to view an early Bette Davis film, or Pat O'Brien in a completely different vein.