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Friday, September 27, 2013

HELL'S HOUSE (1932)

Bette Davis & Pat O’Brien co-star in this early ‘30s muckraker about an innocent kid who lands in an abusive Juvie Jail. One of those ripped-from-the-headlines Warner Bros. pics? Nope, the stars weren’t on that lot yet. Instead, it’s a little indie production, not bad of its type, though somewhat held back by Early Talkie technique, with writer/director Howard Higgins mixing in a few stylish set-ups between the stage-bound dialogue stuff. As it turns out, Davis & O’Brien essentially play supporting roles to Junior Durkin, a 14 yr-old rural rube who gets caught baby-sitting O’Brien’s stash of bootleg hooch. When he refuses to squeal on his mentor, he gets tossed in the kiddie clink where he buds up with Junior #2, Junior Coghlan, a prison vet with a bum ticker. No doubt, you’ll guess the rest, but no harm there. There’s a pretty decent cast for one of these micro-budgeted affairs, and, thanks to Ms. Davis, a damn fine print that lets the film speak for itself once you get past a damaged first reel. Naive and corny in parts, but still effective in the clinches.

DOUBLE-BILL: See how Warners vivified this sort of thing in WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD/’33.

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