Warner’s pocket atlas of the United States of Depression: the factory or the chain gang, different town same shit, the carceral heart of the country. A long tracking shot shows prisoners laying in their bunks, listening to the sound of a guy getting mercilessly whipped with a razor strop.
It’s bracing to see a studio bet on pessimism and sweat, on a muckraker sensibility plus a little action, and on Paul Muni as one of cinema’s great soulful lunkheads (one with a thing for bridges).
The escape sequences are both amazing, and very different from one another: the first organic, a slow dream of camouflage and river water and Spanish moss; the second mechanical, a ripping car chase and demolition fest. They’re the movie’s two big concessions to fantasy, but they also tell a story in themselves—one about giving up on America.