The Mayor of Hell

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The Mayor of Hell
The Mayor of Hell movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release lobby card
Directed by Archie Mayo
Michael Curtiz (uncredited)
Written by Islin Auster (story Reform School)
Edward Chodorov
Starring James Cagney
Madge Evans
Arthur Byron
Music by Leo F. Forbstein
Cinematography Barney McGill
Merritt Gerstad
Kenneth Green
Ben White
David Harris
Edited by Jack Killifer
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Release date
  • June 23, 1933 (1933-06-23) (U.S.)
Running time
90 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Mayor of Hell is a 1933 American pre-Code Warner Brothers film starring James Cagney. The film was remade in 1938 as Crime School with Humphrey Bogart taking over James Cagney's role and Hell's Kitchen with Ronald Reagan in 1939.[1]


Racketeer Patsy Gargan is made deputy commissioner of a reform school as a reward from his corrupt political cronies. Initially, he has no interest in the school, but his sympathy for the boys, who are abused and battered by a brutal, heartless warden and his thuggish guards convince him to take the job seriously, as does an attractive resident nurse named Dorothy.

Gargan sends Thompson, the superintendent, on vacation and, while he is gone, puts Dorothy's reform ideas into action. The school is functioning well under a system of self-government when Patsy is called back to the city to take care of some political business. Patsy shoots another man during a fight and has to go into hiding. Thompson returns to the school and convinces the boys that Patsy has abandoned them. He then starts running things the old way and, when Dorothy protests over the poor quality of the food served, he fires her. Then one of the boys, Johnny "Skinny" Stone, dies while in solitary confinement and the boys rebel. Thompson is put on trial by the boys, who find him guilty. Thompson, in a panic, jumps out a window to escape. Pursued by the boys, many of whom carry torches, he scrambles up onto the roof of a barn. The boys immediately set fire to the barn. Dorothy, meanwhile, finds Patsy in his hideout and tells him the whole story. Patsy races back to the school to restore order, but Thompson is dead, having fallen from the roof of the barn. At the picture's end, Patsy decides to give up his political career and stay at the school permanently.



The film originally went under the title Reform School. It took 36 days to shoot with a cost of $229,000.[1]


David Cornelius of DVD Talk wrote: "To its credit, the film pushes to make several of its minority characters complex and intelligent, but still, an ugly stereotype is an ugly stereotype... It seems to have been cobbled together from various sources; most of the film looks very vibrant and clean, although some shots are slightly grainier, often right around scene transitions." He believed that Cagney's performance and many of the others were "quite strong".[2] TimeOut wrote: "Cloud nine tosh from the days when Warner movies preached that delinquents were just good kids in need of a helping hand", but concluded that "Despite the risible script, Cagney is as watchable as ever, and Mayo directs sleekly."[3]


  1. ^ a b "The Mayor of Hell". American Film Institute. Retrieved 11 August 2015. 
  2. ^ "The Mayor of Hell". DVD Talk. Retrieved 10 May 2017. 
  3. ^ "The Mayor of Hell". TimeOut. Retrieved 10 May 2017. 

External links[edit]