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20,000 Years in Sing Sing  /  The Mad Genius

20,000 Years in Sing Sing
February 3, 2018 - 7:30 pm
Alan K. Rode will sign copies of Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film beginning at 6:30 p.m.

20,000 Years in Sing Sing  (1932)

The sole screen pairing of Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis is an unsparingly grim film based on Warden Lewis E. Lawes’ book.  Arrogant gangster Tommy Connors (Tracy) leaves his girlfriend (Davis) behind after he is sent up the river to do hard time. Connors believes his slick mouthpiece (Louis Calhern) will be able to undermine the integrity of the upright warden (Arthur Byron) with whom he engages in a contest of wills.  Curtiz’s exceptional compositions enhance a distinctive social commentary that is folded into a classic Warner gangster melodrama. With Lyle Talbot, Grant Mitchell and Warren Hymer, the picture also features second unit footage shot at Sing Sing prison.

35mm, b/w, 78 min.  Production/Distribution: First National Pictures, Inc.  Director: Michael Curtiz.  Screenwriter: Wilson Mizner, Brown Holmes.  Based on the book Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing by Lewis E. Lawes.  Cinematographer: Barney McGill. Editor: George Amy.  Cast: Spencer Tracy, Bette Davis, Arthur Byron, Lyle Talbot, Grant Mitchell.

Print courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Mad Genius  (1931)

The illustrious John Barrymore delivers a tour de force performance as Tsarakov, a club-footed puppeteer who rescues a young boy (Frankie Darro) from an abusive father (a pre-Frankenstein Boris Karloff) and turns him into a famous ballet dancer (Donald Cook), through whom he lives vicariously.  Curtiz artfully directed the Great Profile’s follow-up to Svengali by working the cast and crew so hard during a short schedule that Barrymore compared the experience to being a finalist in a marathon dance contest.  The film co-stars Marian Marsh and Charles Butterworth as Tsarakov’s insipid assistant.

35mm, b/w, 81 min.  Production/Distribution: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. Director: Michael Curtiz. Screenplay: J. Grubb Alexander, Harvey Thew. Based on the play The Idol by Martin Brown.  Cinematographer: Barney McGill. Editor: Ralph Dawson.  Cast: John Barrymore, Marian Marsh, Charles Butterworth, Donald Cook, Luis Alberni.