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Directed by Michael Curtiz


Oscar and Golden Globe-winners Bette Davis ("All About Eve") and Spencer Tracy ("Guess Who's Coming to Dinner") star in this powerful drama about a girl who commits murder to protect her honor. The girl's boyfriend, who is a hardened criminal, takes the rap to protect her. Co-starring the talented Lyle Talbot ("42nd Street") and Arthur Byron ("The Mummy").


During the early sound era, the subject of prison reform was rarely addressed in Hollywood movies until the release of I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932) which generated a storm of controversy and sparked public interest. After that, the topic became a subgenre of the crime melodramas so popular at the time and, not surprisingly, most of the best entries were from Warner Bros. who specialized in contemporary films with urban settings, often based on true events. This was particularly true of 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932) which was based on the memoirs of Lewis E. Lawes, the former warden of Sing Sing. Lawes began his career as a nineteen-year-old prison guard and rose through the ranks to his eventual appointment as governor of Sing Sing. Like his predecessor, Thomas M. Osborne, Lawes was committed to educating the press and the public about the harsh realities of prison life and programs that could successfully rehabilitate prisoners. Many of his experiences would serve as source material for other popular prison dramas such as Over the Wall (1938), You Can't Get Away with Murder (1939), and Invisible Stripes (1939). Because the studio so valued Lawes's involvement in 20,000 Years in Sing Sing he was given final approval of the script and the finished film. In exchange, Lawes arranged for director Michael Curtiz and his cast and crew to have access to Sing Sing where several scenes were shot using actual prisoners - a rare instance of on-location filming for a major studio during that era.

Excerpt from TCM located HERE


Theatrical Release: December 24th, 1932

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DVD Review: Warner Home Video (Warner Archive Collection) - Region 0 - NTSC

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Distribution Warner Home Video - Region 0 - NTSC
Runtime 1:17:45 
Video 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.60 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s   

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.


Audio English (Dolby Digital 2.0) 
Subtitles None

Release Information:
Studio: Warner

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1

Edition Details:

• Trailer (2:00) 

DVD Release Date: July 4th, 2009

Keep Case
Chapters: 8



A, not-particularly-compelling, but decent / standard 'Big House' yarn with the toughie seeing the error of his ways before his final song. I loved Tracy and the young Davis overplayed the 'moll' a bit - gosh, but she is so lovely to see.

Another single-layered DVD-R treatment from the 'less concerned' Warner. Positive are it is progressive and, actually, not bad considering the film's age. It has more speckles than I appreciate and light scratches under the surface but you take what you can get with the Warner Archive. I see, what looks like, grain and contrast is surprisingly acceptable - maybe some green infiltration.

No subtitles - and, unremarkable but clear, sometimes less consistent, 2.0 channel audio. The film shows it's age more in this department.

Those reading this far will know what they are in for - and being a sucker for 'Prison Flicks' I had a ball. I've seen worse - transfer-wise - but it's been deemed that this isn't worthy of restoration and advanced digital production. Ahhh! I'm not so bothered - the Noir link is nebulous - but exists with the anti-hero protagonist. I'll watch anything with these two stars in - but that is my fancy. To each his own...  

Gary W. Tooze


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Distribution Warner Home Video - Region 0 - NTSC


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