20,000 YEARS IN SING SING (1933) B/W 81m dir: Michael Curtiz
w/Spencer Tracy, Bette Davis, Lyle Talbot, A.S. Byron, Grant Mitchell, Warren Hymer, Louis Calhern, Sheila Terry, Edward McNamara, Spencer Charters
An engrossing prison melodrama about a criminal (Tracy) and his self-sacrificing girlfriend (Davis). Powerful performances lift the film above of the ordinary.
From The Movie Guide: "The praises of a prison, the famous Sing Sing, are sung in this picture authored by Sing Sing's long-term reform warden, Lewis E. Lawes. ...
"Tracy's role in the film seems tailored more to James Cagney's cinematic persona than to his own --- indeed, Cagney, who made the mold in a number of gangster films, was Jack Warner's first choice for the part. But Tracy handled the characterization beautifully. Davis' performance is excessively histrionic: not even domineering director Michael Curtiz could hold the actress back. This was to be the only time that two-time Oscar winners Davis and Tracy worked together. At the time the picture was made, author Lawes was the warden of Sing Sing and cooperated in every possible way for the production, allowing the film crew to enter the prison to shoot and permitting real prisoners to play in the mob scenes. The film was the first of many to be based on Lawes's accounts of prison life: others include OVER THE WALL, YOU CAN'T GET AWAY WITH MURDER, INVISIBLE STRIPES, and CASTLE ON THE HUDSON, starring John Garfield, Ann Sheridan, and Pat O'Brien. Despite the grimness of its subject matter, 20,000 YEARS IN SING SING in laced with humor."