The Criminal Code
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Time Out saysDetailing the conflict between a cynical prosecuting attorney turned warden (Huston) and a green young killer (Holmes), whose stretch in the slammer threatens to destroy not only his faith in life but also his sanity, the taut, unsentimental plot about betrayal and revenge proposes that the convicts' sense of honour and justice is not so very different from that of the authorities: 'Someone's gotta pay' lies all too easily on the lips of both vengeful hard-asses like Karloff and self-righteous perpetrators of the law such as Huston. But there's no facile moralising here; rather, the fast pacing, grimly realistic atmosphere, and superb performances summon up a tragic battle of wits and power in which both sides are equally right and wrong, forced to do what their position in life requires them to, and from which the only way out is death. Hawks' later concerns are in full bloom here - pride in professionalism, loyalty and betrayal within the group, the difficulties facing men forced to live without women, responsibility and respect - and his totally assured style is reflected in the quick, naturalistic dialogue, quirky black humour, and the ability to turn potentially risible set pieces - like Huston's first confrontation with a yard full of riotous cons - into electrifying suspense.