The stringent censorship imposed upon Hollywood of the mid-1930s dictated that gangsters could no longer be the "heroes" in any crime film. Public Hero No. 1 reflects this restriction. G-Man Chester Morris poses as a crook to infiltrate the notorious Purple Gang, a band of hoodlums which preys upon other hoodlums. Orchestrating the jailbreak of the Gang's leader (Joseph Calleia), Morris joins him in a Dillinger-like flight across the country. The bloody denouement, which occurs in a vaudeville theatre, is likewise drawn from the Dillinger saga (that particular gentleman was of course killed in front of a movie house). Also featured in Public Hero No. 1 is Jean Arthur as the heroine (a comic role) and Lionel Barrymore as a drunken gang doctor. The film was remade as The Getaway in 1942.
by Hal Erickson synopsis