The Criminal Code
The Criminal Code is a 1931 American pre-Code romantic crime drama film directed by Howard Hawks, starring Walter Huston and Phillips Holmes. The screenplay, based on a 1929 play of the same name by Martin Flavin, was written by Fred Niblo Jr. and Seton I. Miller, who were nominated for Best Adaptation at the 4th Academy Awards.
|The Criminal Code|
|Directed by||Howard Hawks|
|Produced by||Harry Cohn|
|Screenplay by||Fred Niblo Jr.|
Seton I. Miller
|Based on||The Criminal Code|
by Martin Flavin
|Music by||Sam Perry|
|Cinematography||James Wong Howe|
|Edited by||Edward Curtiss|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
Six years of hard labor in the prison jute mill has taken its toll on young Graham, convicted of manslaughter after a drunken brawl. The penitentiary's doctor and psychiatrist recommends that he be offered a change of duties before psychological damage become irreversible. When the warden recalls that it was he, as district attorney, that helped put him behind bars, he makes him his valet. Graham enjoys the change, especially the company of the warden's pretty young daughter, Mary.
One of Graham's cellmates tries to escape with two others but one is a stool pigeon and inadvertently gives away the plan. The guards shoot dead one escapee. Ned Galloway, Graham's other cellmate, vows to avenge this death, planning to murder the informer and warning Graham to stay away from him. However, Graham walks in on the crime. Despite finding him with the body, the warden believes that Graham is not the murderer but knows who is. Promising him parole, the warden demands the name of the killer. Graham remains loyal to the Prisoner's Code of silence so the warden sends him to "the hole," hoping it will change his mind.
Mary returns from a trip and is shocked when she finds out Graham has been punished. She proclaims her love for him and urges his release. The warden promises to do so but meanwhile Captain Gleason is putting pressure on Graham to confess. Galloway is grateful that Graham has stayed true and arranges to be sent to the hole and protect him by killing Gleason, for whom he had a longstanding grudge.
- Walter Huston as Mark Brady
- Phillips Holmes as Robert Graham
- Constance Cummings as Mary Brady
- Boris Karloff as Ned Galloway
- DeWitt Jennings as Yard Captain Gleason
- Mary Doran as Gertrude Williams
- Ethel Wales as Katie Ryan
- Clark Marshall as Runch
- Arthur Hoyt as Leonard Nettleford
- John St. Polis as Dr Rinewulf
- Paul Porcasi as Tony Spelvin
- Otto Hoffman as Jim Fales
- John Sheehan as McManus
The Criminal Code, based on a successful play by Martin Flavin.:118-119 The Criminal Code was adapted for the screen by Seton I. Miller and Fred Niblo, Jr., son of director Fred Niblo. The original play by San Francisco Bay Area native author and playwright Martin Flavin was produced on Broadway in 1929 at the Belasco Theater. Boris Karloff, who delivered a strong performance in the stage play, is recast here as Galloway. This film accelerated his career: though appearing in dozens of pictures during the 1920s, he had mostly been cast in bit parts.
The Criminal Code was the first of Hawks' four collaborations with Harry Cohn, the others being Twentieth Century (1934), Only Angels Have Wings (1939) and His Girl Friday (1940). It is Hawks' only picture with Frank Fouce, who produced only five films, all released in 1931. Hawks worked with screenwriter Seton Miller several times in the late 1920s and early 1930s. This is the only occasion he worked with Niblo, Jr. Stock footage from the film was used by Columbia in the following year's Behind the Mask, which also featured Cummings and Karloff, but in different roles.
Though an early talkie, The Criminal Code makes a sophisticated use of sound. The intercourse is at times rapid and Hawks seems to be experimenting with overlapping dialogue.
Hawks exploits the prison genre to illustrate the male friendship and 'group as an organic force' themes often present in his works (cf. Only Angels Have Wings, Rio Bravo, 1959). This is most apparent in the scene in which Brady starts his first day of work as warden, greeted by a prison yard full of men booing him as if they were but one man. The warden (and the camera) peer down on them from the office window.
Constance Cummings is a far cry from, say Lauren Bacall, and has little to work with given a small part with lackluster lines. Nonetheless, she represents the typical Hawksian woman. Her character is strong and, to a certain degree, stoic. She inhabits an utterly masculine world, yet, prefers to stay and live at the penitentiary (cf. Mary Rutledge in Barbary Coast).
Foreign language versions
A Spanish language version entitled El código penal was directed by Phil Rosen, which stars Barry Norton, María Alba, and Carlos Villarías. It had its world premiere in Mexico City on February 19 1931, followed by its American opening in San Juan, Puerto Rico on March 14, and the New York opening on April 14 1931.
A French version entitled Criminel was produced in 1932 by Forrester-Parant Productions, and directed by Jack Forrester. It stars Harry Baur and Jean Servais, and made use of certain scenes from the English-language version.
- McCarthy, Todd (1997). Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 0802137407. Retrieved October 31, 2018.
- Kirby, Walter (March 2, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 42. Retrieved May 28, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "El código penal". American Film Institute. Archived from the original on May 21, 2018. Retrieved May 21, 2018.
- "Penitentiary". American Film Institute. Archived from the original on May 21, 2018. Retrieved May 21, 2018.
- "Convicted". American Film Institute. Archived from the original on May 21, 2018. Retrieved May 21, 2018.
- The Criminal Code at the American Film Institute Catalog
- The Criminal Code on IMDb
- The Criminal Code at AllMovie
- The Criminal Code at the TCM Movie Database
- New York Times review (January 5, 1931)
- Under the Cover of Darkness: Expressionistic Experimentation in Howard Hawks' The Criminal Code, an article by Christopher Weedman, at Senses of Cinema.