Interesting film material comes from warden Lewis E. Lawes’ book of memoirs of prison administration [adapted by Courtenay Terrett and Robert Lord]. While it may take some liberties and overstep bounds of conviction, it’s still good entertainment.
Sing Sing’s warden can have no complaint against the Warner picture. He extended WB every co-operation in the filming and permitted cameras within his prison for actual scenes, including prisoners in the mob scenes.
Of pictures having inside of penal institutions as their locale, this one is the best. It builds up its interest strongly through that alone, covering a lot of routine that’s unknown to most outsiders. Finally, it begins to appear Sing Sing wouldn’t be a bad place at all to spend a vacation over the Depression. Arthur Byron’s paternal smile as the warden, his anxiety to create reform and allow plenty of leeway even to tuff ones among his charges, would make it quite a resort.
Though let out to visit the dying gal friend and committing murder meanwhile, convict Tom Connors (Spencer Tracy) returns, putting the warden’s honor system to the strongest test imaginable. In the end it’s the chair for the reformed bad boy whose only regret seems to be his parting from the warden’s shelter and benevolence.
Far-fetched, but it sells. Considerable comedy dots the action. Tracy and Warren Hymer, teamed in Up the River for Fox, are again together. Bette Davis is the convict’s moll who does him dirt in one breath and shoots to kill for him in another. She’s not particularly impressive here.