The Doorway to Hell (1930) Review

Director: Archie Mayo

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 78 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

With a title like this, you’d probably think that you’re in for a badass horror film. Nah, this is actually a serviceable gangster movie from the Pre-Code era of the early 1930s (before the Production Code was enforced). Crime lord Louie Ricarno (Lew Ayres) is responsible for uniting all the gangs in the city under his protection, but now he wants out of the game. Will he be able to escape from the outlaw life? It’s not one of the top mobster flicks of the era, but this is a watchable picture.

Perhaps the biggest flaw with The Doorway to Hell is that its lead actor, Lew Ayres, isn’t the most convincing gangland tough guy. It’s not a bad performance, but the film needed something more. That “something more” may have been Ayres’ co-star James Cagney, who plays Steve Mileaway, his right-hand man. This was only Cagney’s second motion picture, but he handles himself like a pro, effortlessly stealing the show.

This is a gangster feature of the submachine-gun-in-the-violin-case variety, but there isn’t a whole lot of action. However, The Doorway to Hell does contain what has to be one of the largest (in terms of the number of men involved) gang battles in the history of mob movies set during the Prohibition era. It’s a brief sequence, but it has plenty of men shooting it out and brawling in the streets outside a brewery.

The last couple of scenes in the film are fairly slow, but, overall, this is a decent crime melodrama. It talks tough and is pretty short (running only 78 minutes). Cagney fanatics who want to see what he was up to prior to his breakout role in The Public Enemy (1931) probably won’t regret hunting a copy down, but, if you’re looking for a bang-bang shoot-’em-up actioner, there are better options out there.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

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