Good prison picture about one man’s struggle to survive in the big house and keep the code of silence. Boris Karloff is menacing as a con in a movie he made the same year as “Frankenstein.” This one was before that classic.
Robert Graham (Philips Holmes) is celebrating his twentieth birthday when he kills a man in a speakeasy. The man was drunk and paying too much attention to Robert’s female companion. He thought the guy was going for a gun when he hit him over the head with a water bottle. He was really going for a handkerchief. Robert gets ten years for manslaughter.
His cellmates are Jim Fales and Ned Galloway (Boris Karloff). Ned was on parole when the Yard Captain Gleason spotted him in a bar drinking a beer. That was a violation and he now has to serve out the remaining twelve years of his sentence. Ned says he has an appointment with Gleason for squealing on him.
It’s been six years and Robert gets a telegram that his mother died. He’s also starting to crack after six years in the jute mill. The D.A. who sent a lot of the cons up, including Robert, has lost his bid for governor and has been appointed the new warden. He’s Mark Brady (Walter Huston). Living there with him is his daughter Mary (Constance Cummings). Also with them is the elderly Kate Ryan.
The prisoners start doing what’s called yammering which means making a lot of noise whenever they’re disturbed about something. This time it’s a welcome for Brady. He walks into the yard on his own and faces them down. That includes a hardcase named Tex, another criminal he prosecuted.
Robert faints in the jute mill and the doctor tells Brady he’s not a habitual criminal and is worth saving. Brady puts him on his personal staff as a valet. After three months Bob is on the mend. The doctor thinks it’s because of Mary.
Robert’s cellmate Jim is planning an escape with Tex and a prisoner named Runch. Ned warns him that Runch is a stool pigeon. Turns out he’s right and Jim is killed in the escape attempt. Brady makes Runch his clerk to protect him and hopes he can have him transferred.
Ned comes up with a scheme to get rid of Runch. He’s also on Brady’s staff as a butler who serves tea to Kate. The prisoners start another yammer and that draws Brady and Gleason out of the office. Brady tells Robert to stay put. He was just talking to Robert about getting him a parole when the trouble started.
Runch come sin from the office he uses and begs Robert to help him. He refuses. He finally says he’ll go downstairs and get a guard. Now Runch is alone. In comes Ned. He’s got a knife. Scratch one stool pigeon. Ned goes back and asks a sleeping Kate if she wants more tea. She wakes up and thinks he’s been there the whole time. Brady and Gleason return. No matter what Brady offers Robert he refuses to break the code of silence. That gets him a week in the hole on bread and water.
This is one really worth looking up especially for Karloff fans.