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Hell's House (January 30, 1932))

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Hell's House

Released on January 30, 1932: Jimmy gets sent to a terrible reform school after he refuses to rat out a bootlegger friend in this movie that got Bette Davis fired from her Universal Studios contract.

Directed by Howard Higgin

The Actors: Bette Davis (Peggy Gardner), Pat O'Brien (Matt Kelly), Junior Durkin (Jimmy Mason), Frank Coghlan Jr. (Shorty), Emma Dunn (Emma Clark), Charley Grapewin (Henry Clark), Morgan Wallace (Frank Gebhardt), Hooper Atchley (Captain of the Guard), Wallis Clark (Wallace Clark), James A. Marcus (Superintendant Charles Thompson), Mary Alden (Lucy Mason), James P. Burtis (detective), Dick Curtis (cop on the beat), Lew Hicks (Bailiff), Earle Hodgins (Joe the street cop), Jack Richardson (detective), Everett Sullivan (doctor).


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Young Jimmy Mason is a farm boy living with his widow Mother, and in the opening scene we see them outside the house having fun, when suddenly his mother is hit on the road by a hit-and-run car, and she dies. Next we see Jimmy in the city, looking for the address of his aunt and uncle, who must now care for Jimmy. They gladly take him in and care for him, but unfortunately his Uncle loses his job a few days later. Mr. Kelly is a smooth-talking fellow rooming with them that talks like he is the most important man in town. He always has money, and seems to know everyone in town. Jimmy asks him if he could help him get a job, and Kelly gives him a job sitting in his office/warehouse answering the phone. He warns Jimmy that if anyone comes to the door, or calls, that Jimmy should never tell anyone who Kelly is, or where he lives, or anything about him. This is still the Prohibition era, and all alcohol is illegal in the U.S. Soon the place is raided by the police, and when the police find bootleg liquor stored there, and they arrest the 15 year old Jimmy.

In court, Jimmy refuses to tell anyone who the liquor belongs to, so he is sent to the State Industrial School for Boys, where he discovers that all of the young boys must work in the brickyard making bricks for sale. The movie tries to outline conditions at the reform school that would not be acceptable to the 1932 public if the details were known.

On his first day in the reform school he meets and befriends 'Shorty,' a kid with a bad heart. Sometime later Shorty tells Jimmy that he can smuggle a letter out to Jimmy's folks and Mr. Kelly, and Jimmy writes the letter and gives it to Shorty to smuggle out. But when Shorty is sitting in the Doctor's office and tries to pass the letter to the fellow that would smuggle it out of the institution, the fellow refuses, and the letter is subsiquently found on Shorty. They discover that Shorty did not write the letter, but Shorty refuses to tell them who did write the letter, so Shorty is sent to solitary confinement for six days.

Jimmy escapes from the institution on the garbage truck, and Mr. Kelly arranges for Jimmy to tell his story about the conditions in the institution to a well-known newspaper reporter, and the institution is then 'cleaned up.'

This is the earliest film with Bette Davis that I have found so far. This was movie number six for Bette Davis, and her hollywood contract with Universal Studios was abruptly cancelled after the movie aired. She was getting ready to give up and head back to New York when suddenly George Arliss asked her to be in his upcoming Warner Brothers movie, "The Man Who Played God," and her career skyrocketed after that. At one point Bette was the most profitable actor that the Warner Brothers Studio had.