This movie is from 1932 and is based on the memoir of a man who had the same thing happen to him.
James Allen comes home from the World War and everybody expects him to go back to his factory job. He's been working in engineering in the Navy, though, and he wants to build things. He looks and looks for jobs all over the midwest and ended up traveling as a hobo. He's trying to find work when a guy wants to play poker with him. He tells the guy that he doesn't have money and the guy tells him he thinks he can talk the cook in the diner down the street to get them both hamburgers.
The other guy pulls a gun on the cook, and tells the cook to get out the money. The cook won't and he aims the gun at Allen, who gets all $5 ($77.79 now) out. The police catch them immediately and a judge sent Allen to a chain gang for 10 years.
This is the purpose of the movie -- to show how awful chain gangs are and why nobody should have to do that no matter the crime. They're connected to each other by chains at night and have chains between their feet in the day time. They break rock and make railroads. Breakfast is grease, fried dough, and other kinds of fat. The guard will whip you if you look at him wrong.
Allen wants to get out and manages to get to Chicago and change his name and his life. Over the years, he moves from laborer to chief engineer (or something like that). Then someone turns up from the chain gang state and since Illinois won't let him go back (all the good work, the good man he was, etc.), the other state offers nine months doing clerical work and then a pardon. Well, he decides to go back and none of that happens. He goes right to the chain gang, and the judge says he'll never get a pardon, since he's made chain gangs sound bad.
Allen manages to escape again, but he's sure he can't stay in the light. As he talks to the woman he loves and tells her he can't stay, the screen fades into black.
I wouldn't say I liked this, but it certainly made an impression. I really recommend it.