Monday, September 21, 2015

THE MAYOR OF HELL (1933)

A small gang of street urchins (all with a heart of gold) idle away their time by skipping school, running a protection racket, vandalizing cars, robbing, stealing, assaulting people (I'm talking punching a old man through a window), etc.  Five of them are caught and sent to a reform school that seems less of a actual school and more of a prison work camp (probably due to the success of the previous years I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG).  The warden of this school hates kids and enjoys punishing them.  Soon though a gangster (Cagney) who's been appointed Deputy Commissioner of Corrections visits the school and falls in love with the young nurse and her more liberal views of reform.  Cagney pulls some strings and has himself appointed the head of the reform school.  For the next month, he and the nurse create a virtual Heaven on Earth reform school where there are no guards, the front gates are open and the boys rule themselves and even have their own court system.  But things can't stay perfect forever...

As a I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG knockoff THE MAYOR OF HELL is alright, but it lacks the maturity and emotional gut punch of that film.  And most importantly, it lacks Paul Muni's riveting performance.  Also Muni's character was wrongfully accused and these kid's actually are a bunch of hoodlums.  They still don't deserve to be abused, but the viewer has less sympathy for them when the first 10 minutes of the film shows them being a miniature crime wave terrorizing their neighborhood.

Comparisons to I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG aside, I liked Cagney's performance, but the story seemed very oversimplified and idealistic.  Also when the kids first arrive at the camp the nurse made a big deal about how the one sickly kid needed to be placed in a hospital, but then when she and Cagney took over the sickly kid never did go to the hospital and he ended up dying!

Mildly entertaining pre-Code social commentary/gangster film, but I got more entertainment out of the cast/crew and contemplating the story behind the making of this movie than the actual movie itself.  It's also rumored that Michael Curtiz did some uncredited directing on this film.
The subtitles are incorrect because she clearly says "Why, you dirty rat."