Never Too Late to Mend (1937) is founded on an 1856 novel by Charles Reade, critical of England's prison system, leading to reforms.
Reade with Arthur Shirley adapted the tale as a four-act stage play which became a stock-company standard throughout much of the Victorian era.
In the pioneering days of silent films, it reached the screen in 1908 from Siegmund Lubin; twice in 1911 from America's Solax Company & Australia's J. & N. Tait; in 1913 from Thomas Edison's film company; in 1917 with Maurice Gerrad as the villainous Squire Meadows; & again in 1922 with Russell Thorndike as the sadistic Squire Meadows. There were other versions, most if not all lost to time.
The first sound remake was in 1937, starring an early specialist in hammy villains, Tod Slaughter as Squire John Meadows, the vicious judge who sadistically oversees prison conditions.
Slaughter starred in a series of early horror films & thrillers, & this seems to have caused Never Too Late to Mend to be tossed onto numerous lists of early horror films.
But in spite one or two effectively brutal moments -- the image of the imprisoned child bound to a wall for instance -- the film is really only a crime melodrama, & no more a horror story than films based on Dickens novels.
Delightful for costumes if not much else, the film retains the feeling of a stage melodrama. The acting is mannered, & a mite silly. But the cinematography is decent, conveying a world of stone & shadow & menace, presaging film noir. The story, however, just ain't much.
Meadows is a nya-ha-ha mustachioed villain who intends to foreclose the farm mortgage of good & handsome Charles Fielding (Ian Colin). Manipulating events to his own ends, Meadows' wicked intent is to corner Susan (Marjorie Taylor) into marrying him, though she's in love with George.
Framed for a crime he did not commit, Charles' roguish friend Tom Robinson (Jack Livesey) confesses in order to get Charles off. Though Tom too is innocent of the particular crime, he figures he's not gotten caught doing other crimes, so it's only fair he rather than the eternally honest Charles serve the time.
So Tom ends up in prison under Meadows' thumb, as Charles, deprived of his farm, sets sail for Australia to seek fortune, promising Susan he'll return in two years.
A prison tale unfolds of Tom's experiences. He descends from heroic rogue to bitter inmate, but ultimately overcomes his conditions to regain his sense of humanity, even while Squire Meadows uses his undue influence on the prison warden to insure continuous hardships & cruelties. Eventually Tom is released, about the same time Charles returns from Australia with a fattened purse.
Meadows continues to conspire against the man Susan still loves, but in the end, supported by a kindly reverand (Roy Russell), Tom & Charles find justice at last
Squire Meadows is revealed for all his ill deeds, goes instantly insane, & is locked up in the very prison system he defined, to suffer as he made others suffer, where he's assured "it's never too late to mend."
Only at the end when Tod Slaughter gets to momentarily wig out with insanity (as he does in several films) does this film get interesting, & then it's over. It's in the main a badly dated & very, very lame movie which must've looked like out-moded Victoriana even in 1937.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl