Review: The Criminal Code
Blu-ray: The Criminal Code (1930)
The Criminal Code, based on the play by Martin Flavin, was originally produced on Broadway in 1929, and the great Boris Karloff, who appeared in the stage play, is recast here as Galloway, giving him his first noticeable role after being mostly cast in bit parts.
Notably, the film is the first of Hawks’ four collaborations with Harry Cohn, the others being Twentieth Century (1934 which is also reviewed here), Only Angels Have Wings (1939) and His Girl Friday (1940). All classics of cinema (hopefully Indicator will release the other two films!).
It tells the story of Graham (Philip Holmes), who after accidentely killing a man in a bar room fight has spent the last six years doing hard labour in the prison jute mill.
On the prison doctor’s advice Warden Brady (Walter Houston), who was in the past the district attorney who put Graham in prison in the first place, feels guilty and makes him his valet.
Of course Graham meets Brady’s daughter and they fall in love.
It’s quite an amazing for 1930, it has a very strong message encouraging the audience to question the legal and penal systems of that era. Of course this is a Howard Hawks film so the camaraderie and male friendship in the story between prisoners creates the Hawks male ‘organic force’ illustrated perfectly in a scene where Brady starts his first day of work as warden, greeted by a prison yard full of men YAAAAAAING him as a unit. It also has Mary Brady (Constance Cummings) who is a strong almost ‘one of the boys’ Hawks woman who actually falls in love with a prisoner.
Most importantly The Criminal Code is a cracking film, and we were genuinely holding our breath during an escape-gone-wrong.
Not bad for a 90+ year old film.
INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES:
- High Definition remaster
- Original mono audio
- Audio commentary with film historian Nora Fiore (2021)
- Behind the Mask (2021, 26 mins): author and critic Kim Newman discusses the non-horror career of actor Boris Karloff
- Codes and Convictions (2021, 30 mins): video essay by Jonathan Bygraves on the many adaptations of Marvin Flavin’s The Criminal Code
- The Howard Hawks Masterclass with John Carpenter (1997, 36 mins): archival audio recording of a presentation by the cult filmmaker from the British Film Institute’s 1997 Howard Hawks retrospective at the National Film Theatre, London
- Lux Radio Theatre: ‘The Criminal Code’ (1939, 59 mins): radio adaptation starring Edward G Robinson, Beverly Roberts and Paul Guilfoyle
- Image galleries: on-set and promotional photography from The Criminal Code and its lost Spanish-language version, El código penal
- New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet with a new essay by Philip Kemp, Howard Hawks on The Criminal Code, an archival article on Hawks by Henri Langlois, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
- World premiere on Blu-ray
- Limited edition of 3,000 copies
The Criminal Code is released 22nd March 2021.