fantastic film. the camera movement and placement complement the themes of oppression, solidarity (amongst the convicts), isolation (of the protagonist), etc. extremely well. cool hand luke coincides with this film in a few ways. in both films you have the newcomer who is befriended by the oldtimer. the newcomer escapes twice – once by fleeing while going to the bathroom in the bushes and once by jumping in a dump truck, this time bringing the oldtimer along. difficult as it may seem, this film is actually darker than cool hand luke, and though it predates the official beginning of the film noir movement (which people tend to place at 1941 with the release of citizen kane), i think this film should be considered a film noir because of its dark themes, dark cinematography, and the presence of one of the more unabashedly evil femme fatales.
the film’s ending brings me near tears every time and is one of the more depressing commentaries on the state of the nation/society/humanity committed to film. it’s profound in its simplicity and it wipes away any slow or less than perfect moments the film may have towards the end. paul muni’s performance is fantastic in every way so long as you are able to appreciate the differing style of the time. that said, his sometimes expressionistic performance is less so than that of the femme fatale (played by glenda farrell) and his brother (hale hamilton). it’s a pre-code film so you might be surprised by some of the sexual innuendo and brutality relative to films of the time. besides railing against the criminal penal system the film also touches upon race, class, justice, and power structures. in spite of all the heaviness of the film, it does have a comic element to it that is easy to overlook. there are a few laughs in here that keep the film balanced and interesting.
undoubtedly one of the best films of film’s first 50 years.