Having returned from fighting in World War I, James Allen doesn't want to settle into a humdrum life and decides to set off to find his fortune. He travels the length and breadth of America, working as a skilled tradesman in the construction industry. When times get tough however, he finds himself living in a shelter where an acquaintance suggests they go out for a hamburger. What the friend really has in mind is to rob the diner and Allen soon finds himself working on a chain gang with a long jail sentence. Allen manages to escape however and heads to Chicago where over several years he slowly but surely works his way up the ladder to become one of the most respected construction engineers in the city. His past catches up with him and despite protestations from civic leaders and his many friends in Chicago, he finds himself again on the chain gang. Escaping for a second time, he accepts that to survive, he must lead a life of crime.Written by
Mervyn LeRoy cast Paul Muni after seeing him in a stage production of "Counsellor-at-Law". After Muni's performance, LeRoy wired the studio executives: "This is our man!" See more »
When Mr. Parker is showing James Allen around the old office, one of the workers outside of the office momentarily breaks character and looks straight into the camera. See more »
Bill - Barber:
[gets paid for shave]
Thanks. Come in again.
[puts money in the cash register]
Bill - Barber:
How was it? Close enough?
[nods, while avoiding eye contact with policeman]
[actually referring to his 'close shave' with the police officer]
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Mervyn LeRoy's chain gang movie from 1932 starring Paul Muni ruffled feathers on its initial appearance, and still packs a considerable punch when viewed today.
James Allen is implicated in a robbery and is sentenced to hard labour - seeking justice and the ability to clear his name he escapes from the brutality of the prison regime and sets up a new life (as Allen James, not that much of a name change really). The new Allen is a man of influence and importance, who does good for his community. The State still wants revenge though and when he is betrayed, his life really goes pear-shaped.
A sharp and perceptive script is the greatest strength of this drama, plus Paul Muni's exceptional performance in the lead during the different situations faced by his character. Glenda Farrell also makes an impression, but it is probably the last sequence you'll remember the longest, as a desperate Muni fades into the shadows and a lifetime on the edge of society. A heavy verdict indeed on American justice of the 1930s.
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