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Hell's House: BD Review

Jul 19th, 2013

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This early Bette Davis feature is only for the super-devoted...

Kino / 73 Minutes / 1932 / Unrated / Street Date: June 18, 2013

This hard-to-find early Bette Davis effort is nice to find in high-definition, but only the most distinctly interested Davis devotees will get much out of it. Most cinephiles would call Hell’s House an interesting achievement for the actress more than a steadily entertaining standalone film: shortly after this movie was release, Bette Davis became a star, and it’s fascinating to see her in full ingénue form, chasing stardom with accomplished intensity.

This is a prohibition-era tale of folks trying to make ends meet, and as most prohibition fiction tales teach us, not everything goes all that well for the characters they portray. Our protagonist here is Jimmy Mason (Junior Durkin), a kid who tries to do the right thing, but because of tangled experiences in the rough-and-tumble city streets, he finds himself in the State Industrial School for Boys, where things go from bad to worse.

It’s a relatively compelling saga, but Hell’s House is no classic. Watching Bette Davis as a gangster’s ladyfriend who takes a liking to Jimmy and his particular plight is intriguing, but if she weren’t here, this would be just another maudlin melodrama from the period. Kudos to Kino for giving a title like this the high-def treatment, but even viewers with a serious interest in old-fashioned cinema will only find marginal entertainment value in this one. 

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