DOORWAY TO HELL (director: Archie Mayo; screenwriters: from the play by Rowland Brown “A Handful of Clouds”/George Rosener; cinematographer: Barney “Chick” McGill; editor: Robert Crandall; music: Leo F. Forbstein; cast: Lew Ayres (Louis Ricarno), Dorothy Mathews (Doris), Leon Janney (Jackie Lamar), Robert Elliott (Capt. Pat O’Grady), Noel Madison (Rocco), James Cagney (Steve Mileway), Edwin Argus (Midget); Runtime: 78; Warner Bros.; 1930)
“An early talkie from Warner Brothers.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An early talkie from Warner Brothers. It’s a relic Chicago gangster flick from the 1930s that just doesn’t click. Lew Ayres is miscast as ruthless gang leader Louie Ricarno. The dialogue was risible, the story was weak, and the acting was misplaced. The film leaves one with the acceptable social message: crime does not pay. This comes after an hour’s worth of showing that money can buy everything and that crime does pay.
Youthful gangster Louie Tommy guns to death a dirty rat gangster on the steps of his brownstone, as he hides his gun in a violin case. Louie then organizes the city gangsters fighting amongst themselves over Chicago beer territory, and becomes the overall boss who will make sure no dirty business will occur.
Louie makes a quick million bucks, sends his innocent kid brother Jackie (Leon Janney) to an elite military school, and decides that he has had enough of the rackets and surprises his colleagues by turning over the leadership to his second in command Mileaway (James Cagney in his second film role) and he retires to Florida after marrying his moll Doris (Dorothy Mathews). What he doesn’t know is that Doris and Mileaway are lovers.
In retirement Louie writes his autobiography about how a gangster changed and became a model citizen, as he swears he won’t return as crime boss even though the gangs have resumed their warfare without his strong leadership. But Louie is lured back to Chicago when two gangsters try to kidnap Jackie and when the kid eludes them he’s run over by a truck and killed.
The revenge Louie gets on the two gangsters causes his own demise. His nemesis, Rocco, sets a trap and guns him down. Police Captain Pat O’ Grady (Robert Elliott), who had a soft spot in his heart for the hood, warned him that he can’t get away with crime forever.
The film might have been innovative during its time, setting the standard for many of the gangster clichés, but it is now hopelessly outdated.
REVIEWED ON 3/17/2002 GRADE: C –
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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