The Mayor of Hell is a hybrid movie, an uncomfortable melding of social melodrama, gangster film and love story that never quite puts its parts together convincingly. Mayor's core is the social melodrama, with the other genres grafted onto it, but even here it has problems: it has a social conscience that it parades grandly, but that conscience doesn't sit comfortably with the excessive, and sometimes absurd, melodramatics that encase it. To put it simply, the screenplay's reach far exceeds its grasp, and this results in some truly awful dialogue (and some entire awful scenes) in places. That said, when it manages to get its act together, it does provide a number of effective sequences, and director Archie Mayo uses a machine-gun directorial approach that tries to keep the film lively and engaging, aiming for genuine emotion when possible but not afraid to go for artificial if it keeps the film moving. James Cagney is in fine fighting rooster style, using his personal charm to imbue believability into a character that doesn't really make a lot of sense. Madge Evans is rather colorless, albeit in a colorless role, but Dudley Digges is absolutely dandy as the villain of the piece, and Frankie Darro does well as the main delinquent with a good side underneath. One last warning: as with many films of the period, there are a number of ethnic stereotypes.
by Craig Butler review