The Criminal Code

Wednesday, August 17 at 7:30 PM — The Auditorium at NEIU — 3701 W Bryn Mawr Ave
Tickets: $10 at the door

August 17 - The Criminal Code

Directed by Howard Hawks • 1930
A year into his screen career, Walter Huston had already portrayed Abraham Lincoln under the direction of D.W. Griffith, a capstone moment for any actor that suggested no obvious follow-up. Huston spent the next few years applying the moral authority of the Great Emancipator to the befuddling social upheavals of contemporary America, bringing an Old Testament zeal to such archetypical authority figures as bankers, police chiefs, town marshals, judges, and industrialists. The Criminal Code is an unusually pure example of the genre, with Huston starring as a cynical D.A. who recognizes that the law, often capricious and arbitrary, remains our only bulwark against barbarism. “An eye for an eye,” he proclaims, “That’s the basis and foundation of the criminal code. Somebody’s got to pay!” After a failed gubernatorial campaign, Huston rebounds as the warden of the local prison that’s home to many of the men he sent behind bars. Problem is, the criminal code isn’t just some book of statutes wielded by the law; it’s also the prisoners’ unspoken injunction against snitching and finking. Adapted from a 1929 play by Martin Flavin, The Criminal Code is a hard-edged work of pre-Code cinema, less a sociologist’s prison reform treatise than a snarling, gloves-off tribute to the fragility of law ‘n’ order. Phillips Holmes and Constance Cummings co-star as tomorrow’s Americans, caught in a web of crime, but Boris Karloff easily steals the show as a convict whose parole was yanked away after a single beer. (KW)
97 min • Columbia Pictuers • 35mm from Sony Pictures Repertory
Preceded by: Patsy Kelly in “Pan Handlers” (William H. Terhune, 1936) – 19 min – 16mm from Chicago Film Society collections

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