AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
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The Criminal Code
Alternate Title: El código penal
Director: Howard Hawks (Dir)
Release Date:   3 Jan 1931
Production Date:   23 Sep--10 Nov 1930
Duration (in mins):   96-97
Duration (in feet):   9,006
Duration (in reels):   10
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Cast:   Walter Huston (Mark Brady)  
    Phillips Holmes (Robert Graham)  
    Constance Cummings (Mary Brady)  
    Boris Karloff (Galloway)  
    De Witt Jennings (Gleason)  
    Mary Doran (Gertrude Williams)  
    Ethel Wales (Katie)  
    Clark Marshall (Runch)  
    Arthur Hoyt (Leonard Nettleford)  
    John St. Polis (Dr. Rinewulf)  
    Paul Porcasi (Tony Spelvin)  
    Otto Hoffman (Jim Fales)  
    John Sheehan (McManus)  
    Hugh Walker (Lew)  
    Jack Vance (Reporter)  
    James Guilfoyle (Detective Doran)  
    Lee Phelps (Detective Doherty)  
    Nicholas Soussanin    
    Andy Devine (Cluck)  

Summary: Young Robert Graham, under the influence of alcohol, accidentally kills the son of Thaddeus Parker, who is running for governor, when the man insults Robert's date. Though sympathetic to the boy, district attorney Mark Brady, who wants to run for governor in the upcoming election, decides to go ahead and prosecute Robert. Robert is sent to prison for ten years. After six years of incarceration, Robert's mother dies, and the boy, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, is given a special assignment by Brady, who after losing the election was appointed as the prison's warden. Appalled at what prison life has done to the young man, Brady makes Robert his chauffeur. Robert and Brady's daughter Mary fall in love. Robert is about to be pardoned when Runch, a stool pigeon, is murdered by Robert's cellmate Galloway, and Brady puts Robert in solitary confinement for refusing to inform on his fellow prisoner. After enduring torture in solitary by the brutal head guard Gleason, Robert is slipped a knife with which to kill Gleason, or himself. That evening, as Robert is on the verge of going through with his plan to kill Gleason, Galloway escapes from his cell and kills Gleason himself, in retaliation for the guard's returning him to prison for a minor parole infraction. Then Galloway confesses to the murder of Runch and is subsequently gunned down by guards who have noticed his attempted escape. Robert is reunited with Mary and they receive Brady's blessings. 

Production Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Production Text: A Howard Hawks Production
Distribution Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Director: Howard Hawks (Dir)
Producer: Harry Cohn (Prod)
Writer: Fred Niblo Jr. (Adpt and added dial)
  Seton I. Miller (Adpt and added dial)
Photography: Teddy Tetzlaff (Photog)
  James Howe (Photog)
Film Editor: Edward Curtiss (Film ed)
Sound: Glenn Rominger (Sd)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the play The Criminal Code by Martin Flavin (New York, 2 Oct 1929).
Authors: Martin Flavin

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Columbia Pictures Corp. 15/1/1931 dd/mm/yyyy LP1894 Yes

Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric System

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Prison
 
Subjects (Major): Murder
  Prison wardens
  Prisons
 
Subjects (Minor): Chauffeurs
  Confession (Law)
  Drunkenness
  Elections
  Fathers and daughters
  Governors
  Prison escapes
  Revenge
  Romance

Note: Photographer James Wong Howe's surname is misspelled "How" in the onscreen credits. Seton Miller and Fred Niblo, Jr. were nominated for an Academy Award for their adaptation of the play on which this film is based. This film was also made in Spanish and French versions (see entry for El código penal ). Modern sources list the following additional credits for the English language version: L. William O'Connell, Photog ; David Selman, Asst dir ; Edward Jewell, Art dir ; Edward Shulter, Tech dir . In an interview that appears in a modern source, Howard Hawks is quoted as having said that the play's last act "was absolutely no good." Hawks said that he liked the rest of the play, however, and decided to improve it by meeting with twenty convicts and asking them to decide how it ends. According to Hawks, "they told me the whole ending, the whole last act."
       Actress Constance Cummings (1910--2005) made her motion picture debut in The Criminal Code . The film was remade by Columbia in 1938 as Penitentiary (see below). In 1950, the film was again remade as Convicted , directed by Henry Levin, and starring Glenn Ford and Broderick Crawford. A portion of The Criminal Code was used in Peter Bogdanovich's 1967 film Targets

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
CM   Apr 1931.   
Film Daily   22 Dec 30   p. 6.
Film Daily   4 Jan 31   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Jan 1931.   
Motion Picture Herald   27 Dec 30   p. 22.
Motion Picture Herald   10 Jan 31   p. 97.
New York Times   5 Jan 31   p. 21.
New York Times   11 Jan 31   p. 5.
Variety   7 Jan 31   p. 22.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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