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Howard Hawks: The Measure of Man

Sunday, February 12, 2012
4:30 p.m. The Criminal Code
Howard Hawks (U.S., 1931)

Restored Print!

“Somebody’s got to pay”: such is the code of ethics that governs both convicts and their keepers in this stark prison picture. As the film’s primary debt collector, a terse D.A. turned warden, Walter Huston (whom Hawks called “the greatest actor I ever worked with”) embodies the ironic union of moralism and expediency. Like everyone else in the big house, including the revenge-obsessed con played by Boris Karloff, he’s just doing his job. The cinematography by Ted Tetzlaff and James Wong Howe heightens the grim atmosphere, while Hawks both escalates the tension and comically deflates it: “It was the first time I discovered almost any tragedy can also be very amusing,” he said.

—Juliet Clark

• Written by Seton I. Miller, Fred Niblo Jr., from the play by Martin Flavin. Photographed by Ted Tetzlaff, James Wong Howe. With Walter Huston, Phillips Holmes, Constance Cummings, Boris Karloff. (96 mins, B&W, 35mm, From Sony Pictures)