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The Mayor of Hell (1933)
A Heartwarming Pre-Code Cagney
James Cagney demonstrates his versatility as an actor in this charming pre-code classic.
When one thinks of James Cagney, they almost always think of his roles as a gangster, or as a dancer. While the former may, to some degree, describe his role in this picture, the character is not your typical Cagney.
Cagney plays the commissioner of a reform school, who sees an opportunity to improve the lives of the juvenile offenders whom society has turned its back on. He gives a brilliant performance, appearing particularly sensitive for one of his 'tough guy' characters; one feels a genuine sense of caring for the downtrodden youngsters.
The youngsters themselves could be described as the main stars of the picture, particularly Frankie Darro, who delivers a very powerful performance.
Though the plot itself is rather simplistic, particularly in dealing with complex themes regarding criminal reform, the outstanding acting carries the film with flair. Furthermore, the direction, allegedly handled in part by Michael Curtiz, is another highlight; great suspense is created in several scenes, most notably the final climax of the film, making for a particularly memorable viewing experience.
The Mayor of Hell is yet another forgotten pre-code classic waiting to be rediscovered.