DEAD END (1937) 
Sylvia Sidney
Joel McCrea
Humphrey Bogart
Wendy Barrie
Claire Trevor
Allen Jenkins
Marjorie Main
Billy Halop
Huntz Hall
Bobby Jordan

William Wyler


About Bogart

Time: 93 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Drama/Crime

Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Cinematography, Supporting Actress (Trevor) and Best Picture.

DEAD END is an engrossing take of life on the mean streets of New York City in the 1930s, where it's easier to starve to death than make an honest wage. Directed by the impeccable William Wyler, this tale of class and poverty and how they shape human destiny is more enjoyable than one would expect. It was definitely better than I thought. Not much went into my decision to see this movie. I'm a pretty big Bogey fan and Wyler made more hits than stinkers, so I figured it was worth a look. It made me glad I wasn't around in the 30s. Dirt just oozes off the screen. DEAD END is about as far away from an MGM musical of the same period as Pluto is from Earth. This no holds barred account sometimes brings the lives of these characters into too sharp a focus. Though there are many characters and several different subplots going on, Wyler weaves them into an intricate web, giving each story and character a chance to shine. You get to know and care for these people, wishing more than anything that life would give them a break.

The plot intertwines the lives of 3 main characters – Drina (Sidney), a young woman trying to make ends meet while keeping her younger brother out of juvenile hall; Dave (McCrea), a man who grew up on these streets, worked his way through college and is still trying to make something of himself; and Baby Face Martin (Bogart), another man who spent his youth in the neighborhood, but is now a nationally known gangster on the run from the law. This is also the film that introduced the famous Dead End kids, who went on to star in several additional movies about their bad boy antics. With nothing to do and no real future ahead of them, this gang of boys hangs out at the dock, swims in the river and causes some local mischief all under the watchful eye of their super rich neighbors who bought into the neighborhood for the view. Tommy (Halop) is the gang's leader and Drina's younger brother.

She tries to teach him good sense and decent behavior, but she has bigger things to worry about. Like catching the romantic attention of Dave. He likes Drina well enough, but Dave has his eye on uptown girl Kay Burton (Barrie). She likes spending time with Dave, but Kay came up the hard way and she's not about to go back. Poverty is not for a girl like her. It's not that he doesn't want to be an architect, but a good job and a prosperous future is a must for Kay. She might love Dave, but she's not going to live in a hellhole to prove it. Believing that he's in love, Drina gives up hope of a future with Dave, thinking she's no competition for someone as refined and elegant as Kay. Meanwhile, Tommy and his gang get into some hard core trouble when they trick the neighborhood rich boy into an abandoned building, beat him up and steal all his clothes. Usually the boys' antics are harmless, but this time they go to far. In an effort to avoid getting turned over to the police, Tommy stabs the rich boy's father in the hand. He demands justice and Tommy is forced to hide out to avoid arrest.

Baby Face Martin, who's been trolling around the neighborhood all day, decides to make his trip to the Big Apple worthwhile. This was originally a pleasure trip, one that would reunite him with his mother and old girlfriend. Things don't go exactly like he imagined. His mother (Main) wants nothing to do with him, wishing he was dead for all the pain and suffering he's caused her. His girlfriend Francey (Trevor) is thrilled to see him, but not quite what he expected to find. He initially wants her to go away with him, but once he gets a good look at her realizes that dream is dead. Francey has fallen on hard times and is sick from selling her body to survive. He's disgusted that she would turn to a life of prostitution, but she quickly reminds him that with him not around her options were rather limited. Wanting to get back at the world, Baby Face decides to kidnap the rich kid. If he can't leave with the love of his women, he's going to leave with ransom money.

"Maybe I'm wrong. We all make mistakes, boss. That's why they put the rubber on the ends of pencils."

Things come to head in the hot, wee hours of the morning when all hell breaks loose. Dave confronts Martin determined to rid his neighborhood of a bad influence once and for all and Drina and Tommy are forced to attempt to skip town before Tommy winds up in the clink. The finale is full of gunfire, betrayal, true love, justice and redemption. In the end, alls well that ends well, unless you're a hardened criminal or a punk on the wrong side of the law. Lessons are learned, hearts are broken and friendships stretched to the breaking point. Just a regular day on the streets of the big city. What makes this dark and sad tale worthwhile are the performances of it's leads. Sylvia Sidney is stunning and heartbreaking as Drina, a girl who just dreams of being able to live life without having to worry about someone else. Joel McCrea is the perfect regular guy, one who will take care of his woman and try to make the world a better place. It's amazing to me that Bogart became one of cinema's great leading men, when he started his career playing bad guys. He has amazing charisma, even in roles like this one, and it's clear why he became the bad boy all the women wanted to make better. Claire Trevor has a small role as Francey, but she sure impressed me even with her limited screen time.

As for the Dead End kids, they all kind of run together. After the success of this film, they made 5 others for Warner Brothers in the late 30s, early 40s. Billy Halop usually had the "lead" kid role and does a great job in this film as Tommy, a boy walking the line between being a punk or becoming a criminal. He gives Tommy a conscience, which enables the film to pull off it's serious tone about the issues of growing up poor. Though DEAD END was made almost 65 years ago, it's messages are still as viable today for those living on the streets of America as they were then. At least we could blame our social problems on the Depression, we don't have much of an excuse today. Wyler's deft direction and storytelling skills make this an enjoyable film that takes you into a different time and place, one that may be dark, but is still alive with hope. You genuinely like most of these characters and the boys help to give the film a slight comic boost. If you want to know what real life was like during the 30s, I don't think you'll find a much better example. Sure things end on a positive note, but all is not solved at the end of the day. They don't cruise off into the sunset, rich and in love. If you like Bogart and are a fan of classic film, this is definitely one you should check out.

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