The Doorway to Hell

The Doorway to Hell

Lew Ayres looking out from a prison cell

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Archie Mayo
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Screenplay by George Rosener
Based on Handful of Clouds
by Rowland Brown
Starring Lew Ayres
Dorothy Mathews
James Cagney
Leon Janney
Cinematography Barney McGill
Edited by Robert O. Crandall
Release dates
  • October 18, 1930 (1930-10-18)
Running time
78 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Doorway to Hell is a 1930 American Pre-Code crime film directed by Archie Mayo and starring Lew Ayres and James Cagney, in his second film role.[1] The film was based on the story A Handful of Clouds, written by Rowland Brown. The film's title was typical of the sensationalistic titles of many Pre-Code films.[2] It was marketed with the tagline, "The picture Gangland defied Hollywood to make!"[3]


Lew Ayres plays as a young Chicago gang leader who is so successful that he becomes the underworld boss of the entire city. He meets Dorothy Mathews and immediately falls in love with her. Unfortunately, Mathews is a gold-digger who is secretly in love with Ayres's best friend, played by James Cagney. Ayres ends up marrying Mathews, who continues to be unfaithful to him during her marriage. Ayres eventually gets tired of being a gangster and attempts to go straight.[4] Against the advice of all his underworld friends, Ayres buys a house in the country in Florida and brings along his wife. Cagney is left in charge of the gangsters and through his ineptitude things quickly become chaotic. Although his former friends plead for Ayres to return he ignores them and spends his time in the country writing his autobiography. In order to force Ayres to come back, some of the gangsters kidnap his younger brother, played by Leon Janney. Unfortunately, Janney is accidentally killed by a truck. Swearing revenge on the men who killed his brother, Ayres returns to the city.


Cast as Listed in the Opening Credits


A recent review by Allmovie that was reprinted in The New York Times noted that the picture was "an innovative film and featured a lot of elements that would become standards in the gangster genre including tommy guns carried in violin cases, terrible shoot-outs, and lots of rum-running rivalry."[1]

The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing, Screenplay


  1. 1 2 Brennan, Sandra. The Doorway to Hell, The New York Times, accessed October 12, 2010.
  2. Doherty. pg 103
  3. Doherty. pg. 154
  4. Doorway to Hell,, accessed October 12, 2010.


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