New York Times review:
Laughter in Hell (1933)
January 2, 1933
A Chain-Gang Melodrama.
Published: January 2, 1933
The third chain-gang film, an adaptation of Jim Tully’s book “Laughter in Hell,” is now on exhibition at the Winter Garden. It is a lugubrious tale of the South at the end of the last century and the direction is heavy-handed and amateurish.
This cheerless piece of work begins with a note of anguish, later it tells of Barney Slaney, a locomotive driver, killing his wife and her lover and of his being sentenced to hard labor for life. To pile on the agony Blaney’s bitter enemy is the chain-gang boss, who sees to it that the new prisoner has two links less in the chain that shackles his ankles than those of the other prisoners.
Where “I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang” was real and dramatic, this current contribution is clumsy and doleful. It is scarcely the type of picture to appeal to audiences during the holiday season. The scenes of the chain gang at work or the flogging of the prisoners are presented in an old-fashioned way, with the warden a veritable Simon Legree.
Pat O’Brien impersonates Slaney and Berton Churchill portrays his father. They are not especially effective, but it would be beyond the players to do much with their rôles. The glimpses of Slaney’s young wife and her lover, Grover Perkins, are unconsciously humorous. Subsequent incidents are far from entertaining, even though some of the spectators may feel relieved when the inhuman warden is slain and Slaney and other convicts escape.
Even when Slaney reaches a house and asks for food, there is further sorrow, for the girl who opens the door to him announces that three persons have died from fever. Gloria Stuart appears as Lorraine, the young woman who sympathizes with Slaney.
LAUGHTER IN HELL, based on a book by Jim Tully; directed by Edward L. Cahn; a Universal production. At the Winter Garden.
Barney Slaney . . . . . Pat O’Brien
Barney Slaney (as a boy) . . . . . Tom Conlon
Marybelle Evans . . . . . Merna Kennedy
Mike Slaney . . . . . Berton Churchill
Lorraine . . . . . Gloria Stuart
Barton . . . . . Tom Brown
Mileaway . . . . . Lew Kelley
Grover Perkins . . . . . Arthur Vinton
Grover Perkins (as a boy) . . . . . Mickey Bennett
Jackson . . . . . Clarence Muse
Ed Perkins . . . . . Douglas Dumbrille
Ed Perkins (as a boy) . . . . . Dick Winslow
Brownfied . . . . . Noel Madison