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Hell's Highway (1932)

Passed | | Action, Crime, Drama | 23 September 1932 (USA)
Chain gang prisoners forced to construct a "liberty highway" for their overseer chasten under his brutal stewardship, causing Duke Ellis to mastermind a mass riot.


Rowland Brown, John Cromwell (uncredited)


Samuel Ornitz (by), Robert Tasker (by) | 1 more credit »


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Complete credited cast:
Richard Dix ... Duke Ellis
Rochelle Hudson ... Mary Ellen
Tom Brown ... Johnny Ellis
C. Henry Gordon ... 'Blacksnake' Skinner
Oscar Apfel ... William Billings
Stanley Fields ... F. E. Whiteside
John Arledge ... Carter
Warner Richmond ... 'Pop-Eye' Jackson
Charles Middleton ... Matthew the Hermit
Clarence Muse ... Rascal
Louise Carter ... Mrs. Ellis
Sandy Roth Sandy Roth ... Blind Maxie
Fuzzy Knight ... Society Red


Chain gang prisoners forced to construct a "liberty highway" for their overseer chasten under his brutal stewardship, causing Duke Ellis to mastermind a mass riot.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Heartpounding! Brutal! True! (original print ad) See more »


Action | Crime | Drama


Passed | See all certifications »






Release Date:

23 September 1932 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Liberty Road See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

RKO Radio Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Photophone System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


February 1937, the PCA director wrote RKO that a certificate would be approved for re-release if some objectionable lines and scenes would be cut. However, no evidence that the film was ever re-released to theaters has been found. See more »


Duke Ellis: [Chatting with a convicted bigamist] How many women did you really marry?
Matthew the Hermit: How many banks did you really rob?
Duke Ellis: Never more than one at the same time.
Matthew the Hermit: It takes nerves of steel to rob a bank.
Duke Ellis: It takes a lot of backbone to keep seven wives happy.
Matthew the Hermit: Yea, Brother!
See more »


Referenced in Hollywood on Trial (1976) See more »

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User Reviews

Forgotten Crime Classic
10 July 2003 | by Ron OliverSee all my reviews

The leader of a chain gang work force struggling to build the Liberty Road (HELL'S HIGHWAY) finds his escape plans thwarted when his younger brother becomes a prisoner, too.

Hard hitting & gritty, this neglected little drama is fascinating in its detailed portrayal of a tough subject. Road gang prisoners were still being systematically abused in 1932 and this film helped to shine a light into some very dirty corners, while at the same time delivering a compelling human interest story.

Richard Dix gives a typically fine performance as Duke Ellis, a bad guy with a good heart. He's able to dominate the other prisoners until his kid brother (very well played by Tom Brown) reveals his soft spot. Dix was a strong, virile actor who survived the transition from Silents to Talkies in good form and easily projected a persona of raw intensity. It is a shame that he is nearly forgotten today.

Although she receives third place billing, lovely Rochelle Hudson, as young Brown's girlfriend, has very little to do in her only scene. Of much more interest is elderly Louise Carter, as the distraught mother of Dix & Brown. In her few moments of screen time she delivers a terrific performance of a good woman barely holding on to her emotional balance. Her participation in the film alone would make it worth watching.

A handful of character actors also add to the movie's distinction: beefy Stanley Fields as a sympathetic prison officer; Charles Middleton as a mystic, other-worldly prisoner; C. Henry Gordon as the sadistic violin playing warden; Sandy Roth as a violent, nearly blind, prisoner; and Warner Richmond as a guard who fears he may also be a cuckold.

Clarence Muse & Fuzzy Knight have small roles as prisoners. Movie mavens will spot an uncredited Louise Beavers as Muse's visiting sweetheart.

An intriguing aspect of the film is how the black prisoners are used as a kind of Greek Chorus, their songs making ironic comment upon the action. Their 'Frankie and Johnny' parody sequence in particular is a quietly brilliant moment of film-making in how it encapsulates, in a very short time, a key plot twist.

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