Doorway to Hell - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Doorway to Hell Reviews

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Antonius Block
Super Reviewer
June 16, 2016
This pre-Code gangster movie is interesting primarily because of James Cagney, who is in a supporting role, that of a gangster's right-hand man. His boss is played somewhat improbably by 21-year-old Lew Ayres, who is hard to believe as he threatens rival gang members to fall in line under his authority. However, fall in line they do, that is, until Ayres decides he's had enough and decides to retire. (Yes, the pretty boy baby-face had had enough of the game, when it looks like he hasn't started shaving) When he's gone, all hell breaks loose for reasons we can't really fathom, prompting them to attempt to reel him back in by kidnapping his kid brother, who is away at a military school.

Ayres is one of the casting issues; the other is the policeman played by Robert Elliott, who is far too lethargic as he delivers his lines. The script is actually pretty good, and there are some lines that are wry and just perfect for the genre and time period. The ending is drawn out, however, and it's too bad the story surrounding the love interest (played well by Dorothy Matthews) who marries Ayres but secretly loves Cagney isn't expanded on, though the scene where she coyly slips off her wedding ring to encourage him is nice. The movie hits you over the head with an anti-crime message, but as you think about the actions of the police officer, coercing statements and selectively deciding who to protect, you have to wonder how effective this message was. Anyway, the net of all of this is a reasonably entertaining movie, but nothing to write home about.

This was only Cagney's 2nd movie, just before a string of movies the following year which would cement him as a star, most notably, The Public Enemy, and he's such a natural with great screen presence. As a footnote, I found it ironic that while Ayres in the movie lauds Napoleon, his brother's military training, and war in general, Ayres in real life was a conscientious objector during WWII, making him very unpopular at the time, though he served with honor in the medical corps instead.
Super Reviewer
December 5, 2013
A bit muddled and creaky but decent crime drama that suffers from miscasting in the lead role. Lew Ayres was a fine actor but never convincing as a villian, Cagney should have played the role and the picture would have had much more impact. The actor playing the police chief stinks up the screen whenever he appears with some of the worst, most wooden acting you'll ever see.
June 6, 2013
early WB pre-code talkie
July 26, 2011
"Doorway to Hell" should be retitled "Doorway to Dullness." A very lifeless film in which Lew Ayres, who looks totally like a deer in headlights, is a gangster, along with, WHAT A SURPRISE, James Cagney. The film is just so long and it is only 79 minutes. There really is nothing here. The dialogue and action are inefficient and boring. The acting is lifeless and uninteresting. Lew Ayres is completely miscast as a gangster (remember he was in the Best Picture winner from 1930 "All Quiet on the Western Front" where he cast well). Career nadir for him for sure. Sadly, take the next exit when this movie comes around.
½ May 27, 2011
good stuff in this only movie #2 for cagney this pre-code crime drama/gangster flick is well done and fun to watch
April 12, 2008
Very dated. Doesn't really cut it except for mostly novelty.
April 5, 2008
Cagney's the mug who went on to become a star, but watch this film to see him steal the spotlight in a supporting role amidst a bunch of other toughs. This film doesn't seem to have the same moralizing as some other gangster pics of that era, and the plot actually keeps an audience in a little bit of suspense.
August 28, 2007
It's a popular opinion, but I'll say it again: this movie would have been exponentially better had Lew Ayres and Jimmy Cagney switched roles. Ayres is just too much of a pretty boy to be a tough gangster; he looks like he belongs in a Yale classroom, not in a Chicago slum with a gun in his hand. In every other respect it's a fun gangster film with a lot of guts--killing kids and having a traitorous right-hand man get away with his crimes scott free is a nice, dark route to go.
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