John Garfield, Ann Sheridan, and Pat O'Brien star in the Warner Bros. prison drama CASTLE ON THE HUDSON (1940), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.
In this remake of 20,000 YEARS IN SING SING (1932), Garfield plays Tommy Gordan, a crook who is somewhat inexplicably loved by gorgeous Kay (Sheridan).
In short order Tommy is hauled off to prison for a whole lotta years. Cocky Tommy believes his attorney Ed (Jerome Cowan) will secure him special treatment, but Ed's attempt to pay off honorable Warden Long (O'Brien) fails.
Rebellious Tommy spends time in solitary confinement but eventually he cleans up his act, to the extent that the warden gives Tommy a day's parole when Kay is critically injured in a car accident.
Unfortunately Tommy learns that his lawyer Ed has been putting the moves on Kay, leading her to jump out of Ed's moving car at a desperate moment. When Ed shows up at Kay's bedside, Tommy and Ed fight, with life-changing consequences for all three.
This is a fast-moving 77 minutes which I enjoyed. It all ends in tears, but the film's breakneck pace and especially the cast make it a good watch.
I did have to wonder about a couple of things, such as whether a woman at death's door due to an accident really be cared for by a nurse at her home, rather than in a hospital? That aspect of the story struck me as odd.
The film also provides no back story to Kay and Tommy's romance, so we're left in the dark as to why a seemingly nice girl would be so accepting of Tommy knowing full well that he's a very bad man. This leaves Sheridan in a bit of a difficult place; she's likeable and sympathetic, but the character, who doubtless could have had her pick of any number of better men, is hard to understand. A good woman who made a bad choice is all we have to go on.
Garfield's role is fairly typical of his work at Warner Bros. in this era, as a brash, rather obnoxious man ultimately capable of reaching deeper and finding a better person hiding inside, though he doesn't want to admit it. He carries off his final scenes in a believable and compelling manner.
This was also a fairly standard type of role for O'Brien, but he does it so well, portraying a man just as tough as Mickey who is also understanding and compassionate. He brings a certain innate gravitas to a part such as this which probably saves pages of character development for his part; if only they'd used those script pages for Sheridan, though!
Cowan is always fun, and he's quite good here as a bad man, especially bemoaning his poor luck that Kay survived the fall from his car. Yikes!
Burgess Meredith has a large supporting role as an inmate who plans a breakout to be with his pregnant wife (Margot Stevenson). There are welcome familiar faces scattered throughout the film, including John Litel as a priest, John Ridgely as a jailhouse cop, Henry O'Neill as the district attorney, and Grant Mitchell as the prison doctor.
The large cast also includes Guinness "Big Boy" Williams, Barbara Pepper, Eddie Acuff, Frank Faylen, William Hopper, Frank Puglia, and more.
CASTLE ON THE HUDSON was directed by Anatole Litvak. It was shot in black and white by Arthur Edeson.
The DVD print is excellent. There are no extras.
Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.