Hell’s House (1932)

Hell's House (1932)

Synopsis:

Recently orphaned teenager, Jimmy Mason (Junior Durkin, Little Men), comes to live with his uncle and aunt in the big city. The naive young man immediately gets in trouble with the police and he’s sent to a reformatory. There he faces abuse at the hands of staff and fellow inmates.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“If you’d give the kid a chance, he might amount to something.”

Written by Paul Gangelin (Tarzan’s Secret Treasure) and B. Harrison Orkow (Army Wives), directed by Howard Higgin (The Painted Desert), Hell’s House is a mildly interesting programmer that now looks like an after-school TV special.

Hell’s House has its heart in the right place — it’s trying to say something important about social injustice at the height of the Great Depression. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but it does tend to go for the obvious.

The film does contain a few good performances. Particularly good is Pat O’Brien (Angels With Dirty Faces). O’Brien benefits from playing the best written role in the entire film. He is quite good as a street hustler. O’Brien’s laid-back style helps the movie a great deal — he is definitely the best thing about this uninteresting movie.

Hell’s House is notable not only for providing Davis with her first starring role, but also for being the last film she made under the Universal contract that had brought her to Hollywood (the film was made on a loan-out to independent producer B. F. Zeidman). Unimpressed with Davis’s work, Universal didn’t renew the contract.

O’Brien and Davis are essentially supporting newcomer Junior Durkin, who is the real star of the movie. Durkin is fine, but there is really nothing special about the young actor. Durkin’s career never got any traction. After he failed to make an impression, the kid made a few more films and then disappeared.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Hell’s House is a stereotypical 1930s Great Depression programmer: nonsensical and pointless, yet fast-paced and kind of entertaining. That being said, William A. Wellman’s Wild Boys of the Road and William Wyler’s Dead End are better examples of this particular type of movie. B&W, 72 minutes, Not Rated.

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