Blackmail starts and finishes with spectacular oil well fires. In between there’s some lusty and actionful melodrama, with moderate tincture of a wife’s loyalty and sacrifice. Picture is a good programmer.
After giving promise of being a good story [by Endre Bohem and Dorothy Yost], script forgets all about its original background to take Edward G. Robinson back to a chain gang camp to complete a sentence. This sequence, which runs through the middle of the picture, is realistically graphic in its display of physical brutality and mental torture.
Robinson rehabilitates himself after escape from a chain gang. Prospering as head of an oil well firefighting business in Oklahoma, he’s a staid and happy family man. Gene Lockhart strolls into town, and after confessing to Robinson he committed the crime for which Robinson was sentenced, double-crosses Robinson, who goes back to serve his sentence. Tortured in the chain gang, and discovering his wife and son are destitute while Lockhart enjoys wealth from the oil well, Robinson escapes.
Robinson provides a vigorous characterization as the innocent victim of Lockhart’s conniving and cunning. Lockhart is excellent as the nemesis. Ruth Hussey advances several notches up the film ladder with a most sympathetic and understanding portrayal of the loyal wife.