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Mervyn LeRoy's 1932 indictment of the chain-gang system marked a transition between the prison cycle of the early 30s and the topical films of the decade's middle years. It represented perhaps the nadir of hopes during the first years of the Depression and still packs a wallop with its bleak and frightening climax. Paul Muni gives a classic performance as the innocent World War I veteran whose 20s idyll disintegrates into the horror of hopelessness in the 30s. Based on a true story, its style is simple, direct, forceful—even after more than six decades.

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