Paul D’s review published on Letterboxd:
#57 From The Disorderly Orderly via Glenda Farrell
Returning home from war James Allen decides he's not going to be content with going back to the same old job he left behind him, and heads out to become an engineer, but circumstances lead to him being convicted as an accomplice to robbery, and he's sentenced to 10 years hard labour.
The usual story with the returning soldier is to come expecting to pick up where he left off, only to be unable to do so for whatever reason. Here it's different, he's met as the conquering hero, his boss has held his factory job open, there's even a girl waiting for him, but he throws it all in to make something of his life, as he sees it. All of this makes what comes after look rather like he's brought it on himself, for failing to be satisfied with his lot in life.
And then, when the new job doesn't pan out, and he's made redundant, does he go back home to his mother and his rather pious preacher brother? No he does not. In fact, there's never even a suggestion that he's considered such a move.
Instead, he moves from job to job, before riding the rails and ending up in a doss-house, where he meets up with a character who leads him into a hold-up in which Allen is entirely innocent, unfortunately he's caught trying to make a run for it, and before you know it he's on the chain gang.
But it doesn't end there for him, as you can tell from the title, he manages to escape, builds a new life for himself, gains respectability, and only gets caught years later when he falls out with the wife who has blackmailed him into marrying her.
The authorities make no bones about the fact that the chain gang is there to both punish and discourage crime, and when Allen is caught his pleas that he has should get a lighter sentence because he has made something of himself, is used as evidence of the fact that the system works. Which goes to show that spin is no recent invention.
While it's clear that the film's message is a call to end the brutal system on display here, it might also be saying you should be satisfied with your lot in life, that you never know when you're well off.
The final moment is rightly famous, perhaps even iconic, and while it might have made for a good story to say that it was accidental, the fact that it was scripted is actually far better, because it is perfect.