Thunderbolt (1929): Von Sternberg’s Prison Drama, Starring George Bancroft

Benefiting from the new technology of sound, crime movies were among the most popular features in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Paramount followed the well-received “Underworld” by re-teaming German director Josef von Sternberg with star George Bancroft in Thunderbolt, a prison drama, based on a script from Jules Furthman and dialogue from Herman J. Mankiewicz, the former New Yorker theater critic (who would go on to co-script Citizen Kane, with Orson Welles).

George Bancroft received a Best Actor nomination for playing a convict who keeps a dog in his death-row cell, while his girlfriend-moll Fay Wray falls for another man.

The talent in front and behind the camera would become famous for other films: Von Sternberg for his Marlene Dietrich pictures, beginning with “The Blue Angel,” Fay Wray for the 1933 “King Kong,” and Mankiewicz for co-penning Orson Welles’ stunning debut “Citizen Kane”(1941).

In 1928-9, Bancroft competed for the Best Actor Oscar with Warner Baxter, who won for the Western “In Old Arizona,” Chester Morris, nominated for another crime feature, “Alibi,” Paul Muni in “The Valiant,” and Lewis Stone in “The Patriot.”

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