The Mayor of Hell

“In lowering the age of consent for the prison film, The Mayor of Hell showed that the real problem of the younger generation was the adult world” (Thomas Doherty, Pre-Code Hollywood). This odd and compelling picture is set largely in a grim reform school where, under the watch of a sadistic warden, children are bullied by grown men. That is, until the arrival of Patsy Gargan (James Cagney), a cheap ward heeler appointed deputy commissioner as a political favor. Patsy sees something of himself in inmates like scrappy, charismatic slum kid Jimmy (the appropriately Cagneyesque Frankie Darro), and soon, with typical pre-Code logic, the corrupt racketeer becomes a democratic champion, collaborating with an idealistic nurse (Madge Evans) to transform the school into a self-governing juvenile utopia. But there's trouble in this unlikely paradise, too, and the film's incendiary finale powerfully illustrates anxieties about the potential transformation of righteous masses into riotous mob.
—Juliet Clark

This page may by only partially complete. For additional information about this film, view the original entry on our archived site.