Director Michael Curtiz's 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932) focuses on the trust that develops between the warden (Arthur Byron) and gangster Tommy Connors (Spencer Tracy, giving a spellbinding performance).
There's also an entrancing show by Connors' enticing girlfriend Fay (Bette Davis). You can see why that when Connors tells her that he'd give a million bucks to be alone with her for awhile, you feel their desire.
It's unusual for viewers now to see prisoners and visitors embracing and kissing each other, but they'll close and eye to see the loving rapport between Connors and Fay.
Connors enters Sing Sing prison for robbery, and he expects slimy lawyer Joe (Louis Calhern) to do his bidding to make things easy for him in prison. But Joe doesn't expect to meet a cool professional in the warden, who wards off the latter's attempts to bribe him.
Connors continues to act tough; he's hot tempered and has a string of convictions for assault. The more Connors acts up, the more the warden exerts unusual pressure on him to make him come to his senses and knees.
After a few months, Connors finally gets to meet his chica, and the way Fay sashays up to him
|Bette Davis and Spencer Tracy can't keep their hands off each other.|
Later, Connors shows incredible empathy when he discovers that Fay is in critical condition from an accident. This is Tracy's best moment, and shows that Connors swagger and cockiness are all just acts of machisimo.
The warden trusts Connors enough to let him go for one day to visit Fay, telling Connors that he expects him back by midnight. Connors gives his word that he'll be back.
Something goes wrong, of course, but the trust between Connors and the warden is the core of this delightful black-and-white film. The film exhibits Tracy's great range of emotions, too.
3 out of 5 stars
|Tracy and Arthur Byron.|