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      The Mayor of Hell

      Released Jun 17, 1933 1h 30m Crime Drama List
      Reviews 57% Audience Score 250+ Ratings Patsy Gargan (James Cagney) is a cog in the wheel of corrupt politics and so is awarded a cushy job as deputy commissioner of a local reform school for criminally inclined boys. He is initially apathetic toward his young charges, who are regularly beaten by the staff. But as he comes to know the boys and the hardships they've already faced, he warms to them. Inspired, he seeks to reform the school, putting in place new measures recommended by the goodhearted resident nurse (Madge Evans). Read More Read Less Watch on Fandango at Home Premiered Feb 13 Buy Now

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      Critics Reviews

      View All (3) Critics Reviews
      Yasser Medina Cinefilia Mayo illustrates in a rather didactic way a social drama about reformatories, with a wonderful performance from James Cagney. [Full review in Spanish] Rated: 7/10 Jul 8, 2021 Full Review Paul Rotha Cinema Quarterly It is one of the most stimulating American films I have seen for months. Feb 4, 2021 Full Review David Cornelius An awkward yet ultimately enjoyable mix of gangster drama and social commentary. Rated: 4/5 Apr 5, 2008 Full Review Read all reviews

      Audience Reviews

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      Audience Member Don't let the overly sensationalized title put you off of this one, which is about a gang of young toughs all sentenced to a reform school, where they suffer mistreatment until James Cagney improbably shows up to run the show. Cagney befriends the nurse (Madge Evans), but clashes with the strict warden (Dudley Digges), who does not approve of their ideas to give the kids more freedom and the chance to govern themselves. Cagney has further trouble in that he's a gangster himself, trying to keep his 'racket' under control while he spends time at the school. Cagney has such charisma and his presence carries the movie, but there are also fine performances from Frankie Darro (the leader of the kids), Digges, and Arthur Byron (a thoughtful judge), among others (and including all those child actors). It's fun to hear all the 'tough talk' and slang from the 30's, and the scenes early on with the kids are enjoyable. The film's message, to paraphrase Cagney's character, is that you have to take a firm hand with kids or they'll walk all over you, but on the other hand, they're just kids, and behave better when shown a little love and respect. The action gets a little melodramatic as the film progresses, and the simplistic and somewhat horrifying ending isn't great, but all in all it's an entertaining film. Rated 4 out of 5 stars 01/13/23 Full Review Audience Member I really enjoyed this very different role for James Cagney--as a gangster who has a soft spot for children, uses his connections to get appointed a deputy inspector, and visits a state reform school, where he witnesses many abuses and decides by golly to do something about it. A remarkable and endearing performance. Rated 4 out of 5 stars 02/24/23 Full Review Audience Member Juvenile delinquent social drama where early in the film a mother pleads to the court not to send her youngest son to reform school because her first son went there and "came out a murderer!" James Cagney plays a political machine appointee (a favor for delivering votes) who takes a genuine interest in reforming a juvenile prison. There are some of the usual prison social reform film tropes, but there are also some unusual elements like Cagney being somewhat of a criminal who's acting the social reformer and also an ending that's absolutely unexpected and quite good. Cagney is terrific as the criminal who makes amends for his criminal past. He's an actor who I often remember as a caricature, but he really is a dynamic performer and a captivating screen presence. Directed by Archie Mayo with uncredited work by the great Michael Curtiz. Rated 4 out of 5 stars 01/31/23 Full Review Audience Member A great little flick. I dont know what it is with this director and movies featuring gangs of kids, but it always seems to work. This flick is quite violent as well. I cringed a few time at the brutality featured in this film. This was a year before the Hollywood code to effect and ruined the freethinking of films for a while until the late 1960's, and you can tell. Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars 02/16/23 Full Review Audience Member The Mayor of Hell deals with the controversial subject (in the 1930s) of reformatories as it follows the life of depression-era children as they try and survive on harsh urban streets. They work together but break societies rules. At the reformatory they are faced with different types of administrative styles as Thompson (played by Dudley Digges) and Patsy Gargan (played by James Cagney) disagree on how exactly to keep the kids in order and how best to help reform them into good citizens. Part of Patsy Gargan's motivations for trying to fight the existing system is his interest in a young nurse (played by Madge Evans) who works at the reformatory and has had enough of the current system. In some respects the story seems formulaic early on but soon begins to twist and turn as a personal crisis threatens Patsy Gargan's ability to further his crusade against the status quo. Dudley Digges is great as the strict disciplinarian who has worked in his current position for twelve years. He plays a harsh and hateable character, yet he is also sympathetic to a certain degree when you consider his responsibilities and the way they have hardened him. After all, he has a whole school filled with juvenile delinquents to deal with. The audiences ability to first sympathize with this character and then soon come to realize that he has crossed the line both add to the realism and the depth of the story. Madge Evans does a wonderful job of playing a nurturing nurse who is dedicated to her work, yet attracted to the impulsive and uncultivated Patsy Gargan. She is a great blend of motherly instinct towards the boys who have to endure harsh living conditions and sexuality as she inadvertently attracts Gargan and then falls for him. In the opinion of this reviewer Madge Evans has a screen presence and an ease with which she acts that has a mesmerizing quality. She seems to really be invested in the character and she has an effervescence about her that is scene stealing, which is really saying something considering the massive screen presence of the physically diminutive James Cagney. James Cagney has the ability to explode into your home as he acts on screen. He is a fireball of energy and presence and in this role he plays a complex character that is very enjoyable to watch. James Cagney plays Patsy Gargan who appears to be a kid at heart but has found himself in the very adult role to help kids with a similar past to his own. Sure, he is partially motivated by his eagerness to impress the lovely nurse, Dorothy Griffith, but it is enjoyable to watch him transform from selfish opportunist to selfless humanitarian as he attempts to teach these wayward children a little something about life as a responsible adult. While the diverse cast of children are wonderful young actors, the parts they play will seem stereotypical and at times politically incorrect to modern audiences. The scene near the beginning when the children are being sentenced to the reformatory features the stereotypes of the era with potentially offensive portrayals for instance of an ignorant black man and a penny pinching Jewish man, more concerned with the potential income he is loosing out on by not being at work that day then the trouble his son has found himself in. The stereotypes featured appear to be more for humorous effect then because of any racist motivations and one can't help but applaud the diversity in casting for the time despite some politically incorrect content. The movie has its flaws and at times is a bit oversimplified but it does feature some outstanding performances including some hugely talented child actors, some of which had long careers in show business. It is rough movie, and a movie that was controversial for its time. It certainly feels like a precursor to the Film Noir of the 1940s and 1950s with its candid depictions of violence, hatred, murder, physical attraction and crime. Even if the plot or subject matter isn't of particular interest to you it is worth seeing for some very well executed performances. This is a unique movie and one worth taking time to see. Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 01/25/23 Full Review Audience Member 76/100. James Cagney is awesome in this film about his involvement in the way kids are mistreated at a reform school. Interesting and surprising ending. Well made. Good writing and direction by Archio Mayo. It's an unusual film. Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 01/30/23 Full Review Read all reviews Post a rating

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      Movie Info

      Synopsis Patsy Gargan (James Cagney) is a cog in the wheel of corrupt politics and so is awarded a cushy job as deputy commissioner of a local reform school for criminally inclined boys. He is initially apathetic toward his young charges, who are regularly beaten by the staff. But as he comes to know the boys and the hardships they've already faced, he warms to them. Inspired, he seeks to reform the school, putting in place new measures recommended by the goodhearted resident nurse (Madge Evans).
      Archie Mayo
      Production Co
      Warner Bros.
      Crime, Drama
      Original Language
      Release Date (Theaters)
      Jun 17, 1933, Limited
      Release Date (Streaming)
      Apr 1, 2012
      1h 30m
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