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DOORWAY TO HELL (1930)


Arkadin
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Coming up soon (early 1/3), DOORWAY TO HELL is one of the great early gangster pictures that recieves almost no credit for it's influence.

 

Lew Ayres is Louie Ricarno, a young man with ideas and ambition. When he takes over the gang syndicate and organizes territories and boundries, business begins to flourish. Louie's motives are not what we expect though. He's putting his kid brother through military school and planning on a quiet life in Florida for himself, writing his memoirs. Complications arise when Ricarno leaves the gang which is desperate to regain him at any cost.

 

Many people have criticizied Lew Ayres in this role, stating he was "too nice" to be a gangster and would have preferred a similar switcharoo as THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) thinking supporting player James Cagney would have been a better fit in this film as well. I don't agree. Aryes boyish looks and charisma are what make him threatening here. His rise and success is not due to violence, but his intellect--which is the reason the gang wants him back. He finds no enjoyment in "the life", its simply a means to an end. Cagney would have not been the same in such a role. He's great here in support and does little of the mugging and facial over-expression that he himself felt harmed PE.

 

While DOORWAY TO HELL is not a perfect film, I do believe it has a superior story line to LITTLE CEASAR or THE PUBLIC ENEMY. It also boasts some of the best lines in any gangster film ("Where you goin with that violin case?" "I gotta teach a guy a lesson."), and has an ending that never fails to move audiences. Catch it if you can.

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I remember seeing this once before and it took me by surprise. I was a bit taken aback at seeing Lew Ayres in such a role at first, but then I understood that was the point---how a guy like this could fall into that racket. Cagney would have been the "obvious" choice for the role, this is at least interesting.

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Ark -- I just finished watching it and agree straight down the line with absolutely everything you said, right down to how effective Cagney was in a SUPPORTING role. Ayres just about knocked me out -- what a charismatic performance; I couldn't take my eyes off him. You could see him THINKING. Genius "fluke' casting. For such a young age, Ayres displays remarkable maturity, poise, and intelligence as an actor.

 

Ayres was fresh from ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, and DOORWAY TO HELL has the head of the military academy tell him that their aim is to build good citizens, not soldiers..

 

Is there a pacifist theme in the story? (THE PUBLIC ENEMY had Tom Powers tell his brother, "You killed and liked it. You didn't get any medals for holding hands with the Germans").

 

This certainly would be in line with Ayres's own anti-war sentiments.

 

I thought this was the best early gangster film I've ever seen, and THAT ENDING!!! It was almost Gatsby-like, very literate and sophisticated. Dorothy Mathews as the wife and Leon Janney as the kid brother, were good, very natural.

 

And did you notice that was none other than Dwight Frye delivering the "lesson" line!

 

The second half was a little slow, but redeemed by the closing scenes in the hotel room.

 

Beats LITTLE CAESAR and THE PUBLIC ENEMY by a mile.

 

Nobody should miss it!

 

Message was edited by: Bronxgirl48

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Hi mickeeteeze, You're right about the nice surprises in this film. Many times gangsters are shown as idotic thugs with a taste for blood. Ayres dispells that myth and only rejoins the gang to avenge his brother. He's also intelligent and well liked, unlike Tom Powers and Rico who terrorized everyone around them but their best friends (and even made them nervous a time or two!). It's also his best friend that steals his wife, but is never discovered by Ayres who still thinks he's a "great pal". A very different type of picture even by modern standards.

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Hey Arkadin !

Yeah. It sounds strange saying this, but it really had an appeal all it's own. I'm actually glad I didn't see this when I was,oh,25 or so. I don't know if it would have resonated as well for me.

Another thing, I've read somewhere that Cagney considered Ayres miscast. Well,77 yrs later, I thought Ayres was pretty good. Here's a guy who has been in a few real gems, but for the most part,other than around here, is largely forgotten. I like when I can see someone from long ago be in something that seems completely different. Because there was no "type", the film actually felt "fresh".

It was a good watch.

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