There's no escaping the watchful eye of Judge Patrick Naugle.
There's no escaping the past.
Small time hood Louie Peronni (Edward Norris, Boys Town) is an ex-con who has just been released from the clinker. Louie heads home but finds his old life in shambles. It appears his wife, Annie (June Gale, Charlie Chan at Treasure Island), had a baby without telling him and given it up for adoption. Louie's sister (Amanda Duff, The Devil Commands) has fallen in love with one of Louie's former schoolmates, Eddie Farrell (Kane Richmond, The Lost City), who also just happens to be a policeman. Soon Louie finds himself wandering back into a life of crime where things go from back to worse, especially when Louie's daughter is kidnapped by his own gang in order to force Louie to take the fall for them!
The gangster movie was an absolute staple during the 1930s and '40s. Audiences seemed to thrill at seeing low life thugs and goodfellas getting into shootouts and eventually receiving their just desserts. It's assumed that audiences loved witnessing these bad guys get their comeuppance, but I have the sneaking suspicion that what viewers secretly enjoyed was seeing their ids go wild on screen through the eyes of the bad guys. From Scarface to White Heat to The Petrified Forest, there was no shortage of pinstripe suits and tough guy attitude.
Fox's low budget gangster film The Escape came out in 1939; this was a tough year for any film due to how many classics were released. Audiences thrilled to Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and many other films that are now bona fide classics. It's considered by many to be Hollywood's best year for movies, and it's hard to argue since so many awesome films came out of that year. One that seems to have been long forgotten is director Ricardo Cortez's mafia fluff piece The Escape.
The Escape moves at a breakneck pace, mostly out of necessity—this quickie cops and robbers flick clocks in at under an hour, which doesn't leave a lot of room for intricate plot devices or deep characterization. The Escape ends up being a mostly bare bones gangster movie that features broad acting, light action, and a clearly outlined moral (if you become a criminal, bad things are gonna happen, so for the sake of all that's good and just don't do it!).
There aren't any big marquee names in The Escape. I can safely say I didn't recognize any of the actors, and none of them give outstanding performances. The best is lanky lead actor Edward Norris as the snarling Louie Perroni. Norris—who could pass for Jimmy Stewart's younger brother—seems to be having a grand time chewing the scenery at every turn, and while he can't match the dizzying heights of classic gangster actors like James Cagney or Humphrey Bogart, it's still a relatively fun performance. The only other memorable performances are by the kids as the city's street urchins. The dirt-encrusted children are given old-timey dialogue like, "Gee mister, can't ya let a fella in on your secret, old pal?", which sounds nothing like the way a child would speak, even in the 1930s.
By the time The Escape really gets going, it's over in a flash. The last twenty minutes move pretty fast to wrap up any and all loose ends, which it does but in a rather unsatisfying way. There's a reason most films are at least an hour and a half long—58 minutes doesn't allow for enough time to become emotionally connected to characters or their circumstances. If you're a diehard gangster fan to the nth degree, you may want to check out The Escape. Otherwise, there are a lot of better mafia classics that are worth your time.
The Escape is presented in 1.33:1 full frame in glorious black and white. Fox's catalog titles are often a mixed bag, but this transfer is one of the best looking of the bunch. The black and white image is very clear with a minimum of grain or major imperfections. It's not a perfect transfer, but for its age, budget, and limited popularity; this transfer looks very good. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in English. It won't come as any surprise to find that this audio mix is very front heavy and doesn't feature any surround sounds or directional effects. No alternate subtitles or soundtracks are available. There are no extra features included.
The Escape is about as light at they come—short, succinct, and to the point in less than an hour. It's certainly no gangster classic, but it's decent fare for those who've already sat through The Public Enemy and White Heat two dozen times. While there aren't any supplements to be found, Fox's work on the video and audio is better than average.
Guilty of brevity.
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