Laughter in Hell. 1933. USA. Directed by Edward L. Cahn. 70 min.
Screenplay by Tom Reed. With Pat O’Brien, Clarence Muse, Tommy Conlon, Merna Kennedy. Responding in the African American weekly newspaper The New York Age to the controversy surrounding Laughter in Hell, a pre-Code chain gang melodrama from Universal Pictures, the Jamaican-born columnist Vere E. Johns wrote, “I journeyed all the way to the little Morningside Theatre at 116th street and Eighth avenue [sic] to see it. The complaint was that nine colored convicts were hanged in the picture…. The whole thing in my opinion…is intended to be an exposé of the appalling cruelty of Southern chain gangs, and with the known attitude to the Negro in the southern states, if such a picture did not show the colored convicts getting a rawer deal than the whites, then it would be faulty. Any picture that will tend to lessen the brutality in the South should be encouraged. I haven’t heard of any white people complaining about the brutality meted out to Paul Muni in I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang or to Richard Dix and Tom Brown in Hell’s Highway, and I can see no reason for objection in this case.” Courtesy NBC Universal.