The Mayor of Hell

Last updated
The Mayor of Hell
The Mayor of Hell movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release lobby card
Directed by Archie Mayo
Michael Curtiz (uncredited)
Written byIslin Auster (story Reform School)
Edward Chodorov
Starring James Cagney
Madge Evans
Arthur Byron
Music by Leo F. Forbstein
Cinematography Barney McGill
Merritt Gerstad
Kenneth Green
Ben White
David Harris
Edited by Jack Killifer
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Release date
  • June 23, 1933 (1933-06-23)(U.S.)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Mayor of Hell is a 1933 American pre-Code Warner Brothers film starring James Cagney. The film was remade in 1938 as Crime School with Humphrey Bogart taking over James Cagney's role and Hell's Kitchen with Ronald Reagan in 1939. [1]



Racketeer Patsy Gargan is made deputy commissioner of a reform school as a reward from his corrupt political cronies. Initially, he has no interest in the school, but his sympathy for the boys, who are abused and battered by a brutal, heartless warden and his thuggish guards convince him to take the job seriously, as does an attractive resident nurse named Dorothy.

Gargan sends Thompson, the superintendent, on vacation and, while he is gone, puts Dorothy's reform ideas into action. The school is functioning well under a system of self-government when Patsy is called back to the city to take care of some political business. Patsy shoots another man during a fight and has to go into hiding. Thompson returns to the school and convinces the boys that Patsy has abandoned them. He then starts running things the old way and, when Dorothy protests over the poor quality of the food served, he fires her. Then one of the boys, Johnny "Skinny" Stone, dies while in solitary confinement and the boys rebel. Thompson is put on trial by the boys, who find him guilty. Thompson, in a panic, jumps out a window to escape. Pursued by the boys, many of whom carry torches, he scrambles up onto the roof of a barn. The boys immediately set fire to the barn. Dorothy, meanwhile, finds Patsy in his hideout and tells him the whole story. Patsy races back to the school to restore order, but Thompson is dead, having fallen from the roof of the barn. At the picture's end, Patsy decides to give up his political career and stay at the school permanently.



The film originally went under the title Reform School. It took 36 days to shoot with a cost of $229,000. [1]


On July 1, 1933, The New York Times review [2] praised the film, saying: “The Warner Brothers, who made "I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang," have very nearly produced its equal in "The Mayor of Hell,"...[they] have uncovered a stimulating subject in the dark hard places of a boys' reform school. If James Cagney's affection for Madge Evans is a definite encumbrance in the film, the impact of its mounting bitterness and resentment against the penal system at the reform school is not to be denied. The wild fury of the boys in the closing scenes becomes contagious. There only can be tears to meet that touching scene in which Johnny, the little consumptive, dies on his cot while the other lads stand silently around him....The story is badly balanced because of an obtrusive gangster element and it bulges here and there to make room for Madge Evans... But the power, the vigor, the surge and flow of real issues and important psychological problems make ‘The Mayor of Hell’ an interesting and stimulating drama almost in spite of itself. Dudley Digges gives a superb portrait of a sniveling, knee-bending, wantonly domineering office holder as the warden. Arthur Byron is wise and troubled as the judge of the children's court. Mr. Cagney fills the part of the reformed ward heeler with the gusto and swagger one expects of him. As the leader of the boy inmates, Frankie Darrow gives a hard-faced performance that is genuinely disturbing. He is a boy prematurely bitter and cynical, prematurely grown out of the ways of boyhood. An excellent diversity of types has been collected for the school's population, and the lads provide many anonymously touching moments.”


David Cornelius of DVD Talk wrote: "To its credit, the film pushes to make several of its minority characters complex and intelligent, but still, an ugly stereotype is an ugly stereotype..." He believed that Cagney's performance and many of the others were "quite strong". [3] TimeOut wrote: "Cloud nine tosh from the days when Warner movies preached that delinquents were just good kids in need of a helping hand", but concluded that "Despite the risible script, Cagney is as watchable as ever, and Mayo directs sleekly." [4]

Related Research Articles

<i>Boys Town</i> (film) 1938 film by Norman Taurog

Boys Town is a 1938 biographical drama film based on Father Edward J. Flanagan's work with a group of underprivileged and delinquent boys in a home that he founded and named "Boys Town". It stars Spencer Tracy as Father Edward J. Flanagan, and Mickey Rooney with Henry Hull, Leslie Fenton, and Gene Reynolds.

<i>Each Dawn I Die</i> 1939 gangster film directed by William Keighley

Each Dawn I Die is a 1939 gangster film featuring James Cagney and George Raft in their only movie together as leads, although Raft had made an unbilled appearance in a 1932 Cagney vehicle called Taxi! in which he won a dance contest against Cagney, after which he and Cagney brawl. Raft also very briefly "appeared" in Cagney's boxing drama Winner Take All (1932), in a flashback sequence culled from Raft's 1929 film debut Queen of the Night Clubs starring Texas Guinan.

Madge Evans American actress

Madge Evans was an American stage and film actress. She began her career as a child performer and model.

Dudley Digges (actor)

Dudley Digges was an Irish stage actor, director, and producer as well as a film actor. Although he gained his initial theatre training and acting experience in Ireland, the vast majority of Digges' career was spent in the United States, where over the span of 43 years he worked in hundreds of stage productions and performed in over 50 films.

<i>Crime School</i> 1938 film by Lewis Seiler

Crime School is a 1938 Warner Bros. film directed by Lewis Seiler and starring the Dead End Kids and Humphrey Bogart.

<i>Hells Kitchen</i> (1939 film) 1939 thriller film

Hell's Kitchen is a 1939 thriller Warner Bros. film starring The Dead End Kids and Ronald Reagan.

<i>Invisible Stripes</i> 1939 film by Lloyd Bacon

Invisible Stripes is a 1939 Warner Bros. crime film starring George Raft as a gangster unable to go straight after returning home from prison. The movie was directed by Lloyd Bacon and also features William Holden, Jane Bryan and Humphrey Bogart. The screenplay by Warren Duff was based on the novel of the same name by Warden Lewis E. Lawes, a fervent crusader for prison reform, as adapted by Jonathan Finn.

<i>Outward Bound</i> (film) 1930 film

Outward Bound is a 1930 American pre-Code drama film based on the 1923 hit play of the same name by Sutton Vane. It stars Leslie Howard, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Helen Chandler, Beryl Mercer, Montagu Love, Alison Skipworth, Alec B. Francis, and Dudley Digges. The film was later remade, with some changes, as Between Two Worlds (1944).

<i>The Gangs All Here</i> (1941 film) 1941 film

The Gang's All Here (1941) is an American black-and-white feature film starring Frankie Darro, Mantan Moreland, Marcia Mae Jones, and Jackie Moran in a story about a trucking company targeted by saboteurs. The film was directed by Jean Yarbrough, produced by Lindsley Parsons, and is one of several that paired Darro and Moreland. The film is known as In the Night in the UK.

Edward Gargan

Edward Gargan was an American film and television actor, one of the most prolific bit players in the history of film.

John Wray was an American character actor of stage and screen.

<i>Mr. Wise Guy</i> 1942 film by William Nigh

Mr. Wise Guy is a 1942 American film starring The East Side Kids and directed by William Nigh.

<i>Before Dawn</i> (film) 1933 film

Before Dawn is a 1933 American pre-Code drama film directed by Irving Pichel and written by Garrett Fort. The film stars Stuart Erwin, Dorothy Wilson, Warner Oland, Dudley Digges and Gertrude Hoffman. The film was released on August 4, 1933, by RKO Pictures.

Code of the Streets is a 1939 Universal Studios film starring The Little Tough Guys.

<i>Indianapolis Speedway</i> (film) 1939 film by Lloyd Bacon

Indianapolis Speedway is a 1939 American drama film directed by Lloyd Bacon and written by Sig Herzig and Wally Kline.The film stars Ann Sheridan, Pat O'Brien, John Payne, Gale Page, Frank McHugh and Grace Stafford. The film was released by Warner Bros. on August 5, 1939.

Great Stagecoach Robbery is a 1945 American film directed by Howard Bretherton starring Wild Bill Elliott in the role of Red Ryder and costarring as Little Beaver, actor (Bobby) Robert Blake. It was the sixth of twenty-three Red Ryder feature films that would be produced by Republic Pictures. The picture was shot on the studio's back lot along with outdoor locations at Iverson Ranch, 1 Iverson Lane, Chatsworth, Los Angeles, CA, USA.

<i>The Little Red Schoolhouse</i> 1936 film by Charles Lamont

The Little Red Schoolhouse is a 1936 American drama film directed by Charles Lamont and starring Frank Coghlan Jr., Lloyd Hughes and Dickie Moore. A boy runs away from school and head for New York City.

One in a Million is a 1934 American drama film directed by Frank R. Strayer and starring Dorothy Wilson, Charles Starrett and Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams.

Henry Otho American actor

Henry Otho was an American actor. He has worked in The Big Stampede (1932), Mary Stevens (1933), Hard to Handle (1933), The Mayor of Hell (1933), Baby Face (1933), Mandalay (1934), Wonder Bar (1934), Stranded (1935), My Bill (1938), The Fighting Devil Dogs (1938), Overland Stage Raiders (1938), Each Dawn I Die (1939).

Adrian Morris (actor) American actor

Adrian Michael Morris was an American actor of stage and film, and a younger brother of Chester Morris.


  1. 1 2 "The Mayor of Hell". American Film Institute. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  2. A.d.s (1933-07-01). "James Cagney, Dudley Digges and Frankie Darrow in a Grim Drama of a Boys' Reform School". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2019-11-08.
  3. "The Mayor of Hell". DVD Talk. Retrieved 10 May 2017.
  4. "The Mayor of Hell". TimeOut. Retrieved 10 May 2017.