Da 5 Bloods
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I May Destroy You
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Low-budget crime drama with a simple, moralizing plot; not much challenge for Bette Davis in one of her first roles.
Odd little movie. Kinda starts off as a dark comedy, then starts taking itself more seriously as it goes on. Becomes pretty cheesy, but touching, towards the end. If you're watching this for Bette Davis, she's only a side character, but she's gorgeous and does well with the small role she's given. Worth watching I'd say, but expect to be sort of disoriented by the tonal shifts. It's got parts, though. And it's never boring or anything.
Hell's House (Howard Higgin, 1932)
Hell's House still exists in the public consciousness solely because of Bette Davis. That's a literal statement-the movie was thought lost for years, until Davis passed away and her personal film collection was donated to the National Archives; a copy of Hell's House was discovered therein. It was Davis' sixth feature, made when she was still in her early twenties (all five of her previous features were made in 1931); it was also co-lead Pat O'Brien's sixth. But both of these big-name stars pale in comparison, in this potboiler, to the movie's real star, Junior Durkin. Durkin is very little remembered these days thanks to his untimely death in a 1935 road accident (he was only nineteen years old), but he was big business in the early thirties; his very little screen output included playing Huck Finn in both Tom Sawyer (1930) and Huckleberry Finn (1931) and Franz in Phil Rosen's 1934 adaptation of Little Men. While Hell's House is a potboiler, and Davis and O'Brien give it about the treatment it deserves, Durkin throws himself into the role in a way one rarely sees in movies like this. I mean, we're talking Edward-G-Robinson-in-Scarface here.
Plot: O'Brien plays Matt Kelly, a bootlegger in the days when that was a profitable business. Durkin plays Jimmy, one of Kelly's hangers-on. After a job gone bad, Jimmy gets nabbed for a minor crime Kelly committed. After refusing to snitch, Jimmy is sent to a reform school that make the conditions on the Island of Doomed Men seem downright hospitable. While there, he befriends Shorty (the great character actor Frank Coughlin Jr. in one of his few credited roles), who has a heart condition exacerbated by the brutal treatment he receives there. Once Jimmy gets out, he enlists Kelly and Kelly's girlfriend Peggy (Davis) to help spread the word about the deplorable reform school and bring its tyrant of a headmaster (James A. Marcus, another often-uncredited character actor) to justice.
Yes, it's a genre thriller, predictable and manipulative, an otherwise forgettable product of its time save the fame its two leads would go onto and the once-in-a-lifetime performance given by a child star whose ascent to fame was cruelly ended. But those things make it interesting, at least, as a piece of cinematic history; if you're a student of the early days of film, it's worth checking out on that angle. Others can take it or leave it as they will. **
★★1/2 (out of four)
An early and mostly forgotten old movie featuring the dynamic Bette Davis. In fact, even though she is only in the film for a small portion of it...she is still the reason to see it. There just isn't much else here to recommend.
Junior Durkin plays Jimmy, a teenager who finds himself alone following the death if his mother. She goes to live with his aunt and uncle. He soon finds his way to some trouble when he befriends the shady tenant who rooms at his uncle's.
The law catches him in the wrong place at the wrong time and he is sent to a juvenile home where he clashes with the other kids. Bette davis plays the girlfriend of the tenant.
Hell's House is a mediocre film exposing the poor conditions and abuse which take place in the state reform schools during the time period. Bette Davis and Pat O Brien headline the cast, but really this film is entirely on the shoulders of Junior Durkin, who plays Jimmy, a young man who is sent to boarding school after aiding O'Brien's character in his bootlegger operation. It's kinda interesting cause the film really focuses on Jimmy's naive character and his plight at the boarding school, but at the end of the film, it is Pat O Brien's character who makes the ultimate decision which makes the difference in changing things. It's really just a mediocre endeavor where none of the technical aspects, acting or screenplay do much to elevate the film above just being an average movie.
Decent Pre-Code Social Problem film. In public domain: http://www.imdb.com/video/internet-archive/vi1721369113/
This movie was not what I expected to see when I saw the title was hell's house. I thought it would be a horror movie, but it is a serious drama about young men in prison. It's okay if that's the kind of movie you want to see.
I thought this was a great film.
Poverty row quickie, shot in less than two weeks, is more a curio than anything else. The print is in terrible condition and the whole thing is overly earnest but an impossibly young Bette Davis looks great and while not really given much to do is still full of intensity and star quality. Otherwise Pat O'Brien does well as a slimeball who turns out to have at least a shred of decency. And Uncle Henry from the Wizard of Oz pops up as an Uncle Henry here too.
Bette Davis shines in her role as the girlfriend of a bootlegger in this early 1932 appearance. She has few scenes but outperforms everyone else in the flick & her raw talent is apparent even at this early date. The DVD I saw had terrible sound quality & with the use of onscreen intertitles to advance the storyline, I sometimes felt I was watching a silent film. You can't help but love the main character, Jimmy Mason, who is unfairly sent away to reform school (aka Hell's House) & you get the idea the filmmakers were providing social commentary against conditions at the reform schools of their day where children were made to work in brick yards & lacked sufficient nutrition & health care. This film truly captures the feel of the depression/prohibition era. I won't spoil the ending except to say this is a sweet film & worth a watch if you can get your hands on it.