Millionaires in Prison (1940)

Millionaires in Prison (1940)

Directed by Ray McCarey (brother of Leo) with a screenplay by Lynn Root and Frank Fenton that was based on a story by Martin Mooney this B movie prison crime drama begins by introducing 5 millionaires who are about to enter prison for their crimes. Two of them James Brent (Morgan Conway) and Sidney Keats (Chester Clute) were unscrupulous investor-bankers who took money from widows and orphans and squandered it through wildcat stock schemes. Two others Bruce Vander (Raymond Walburn) and Harold Kellogg (Thurston Hall) were similarly employed but got involved in a scandal through their lawyer and are otherwise without fault. Society doctor and former Navy officer ‘Bill’ Collins (Truman Bailey) is about to be incarcerated on a drunk driving charge. On their way to prison all five learn that the convict on the inside who ‘runs’ things is named Nick Burton who’s played by top billed Lee Tracy. After meeting the warden (Thomas E. Jackson) the millionaires meet Burton and the other cons including Happy (Cliff Edwards) Ox (Paul Guilfoyle) the Professor (Shemp Howard better known as one of “The Three Stooges”) and ‘SOS’ (Horace McMahon) among others. Linda Hayes plays Helen Hewitt Collins’s girlfriend and Virginia Vale plays May Thomas Burton’s girlfriend; the two meet on a train to visit their guys. Selmer Jackson plays the prison’s doctor Harry Lindsay who provides an opportunity to Collins and Grady Sutton appears uncredited as Vander’s nephew Jock.

The movie includes some prison film staples such as a fight that breaks out while the inmates are eating the requisite slop in the mess hall causing the guards to drop teargas and the prisoners milling around in the courtyard in small intimate groups trying to have discrete conversations or pass messages without being detected by their keepers. Otherwise Brent and Keats work quickly to con their fellow inmates into a phony copper mine investment scheme but they have limited success until they get Burton to agree to endorse it for a percentage of the take. Later however it’s learned that Burton was only setting them up; he would never con his fellow cons who trust him. Burton also quickly establishes that Collins is a great guy and works to help him in the opportunity Dr. Lindsay provides him – to test a serum he’s invented which cures a human sickness in rats. Burton convinces Vander and Kellogg who are more interested in planning a banquet with Vander’s nephew to put up $50000 for the five prison volunteers needed to test the cure on humans. The only real drama is whether these prisoners will live though the outcome is predictable of course. After Collins’s success he goes before the parole review board. When he returns it is learned that his appeal was accepted. However the twist is that Collins had asked that the stand-up guy Burton be released from his remaining five years (the doctor himself only has a few more months on his term anyway).

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