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Dead End Movie Review

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It was the summer of 1937 and happy days weren't here again. It would take a second world war to end the international depression. Sidney Kingsley (Men in White, The Patriots, Detective Story) had won a Pulitzer Prize for the original play Dead End in 1935, when he was only 29. Lillian Hellman (1905–84) was on Samuel Goldwyn's payroll, so she wrote the screenplay. Director William Wyler wanted to film the picture on the sidewalks of New York, but Goldwyn, like so many Hollywood producers, insisted that his Oscar-winning art director (Richard Day, 1896–1972) could transform the back lot into an East Side neighborhood. Well, you never forget it's a set, but what a set (!), filled with nooks and crannies and back alleys and dark stairs and a sharp contrast between the poverty line and the exterior of a luxury apartment building. Dead End wasn't a bromide for those 20th century blues, it was a hardhitting look at how the Depression affected everyone. Drina Gordon (Sylvia Sidney) is the sole source of support for her teenage brother Tommy (Billy Halop), but she's currently picketing her place of work. (Check out other films of the ‘30s to see how often members of picket lines are shown in such a compassionate light, if at all.) Drina's in love with architect Dave Connell (Joel McCrea), but he's between jobs and lusting after gangland moll Kay Burton (Wendy Barrie, who had a reputation for socializing with gangsters in real life). Tommy and the other Dead End Kids—Dippy, Angel, T.B., Spit, and Milty—worship their gangland ideal, Baby Face Martin (Humphrey Bogart): He got out. But Martin is back (with Allen Jenkins as a thug named Hunk) to pay a call on his girlfriend, Francey (Claire Trevor) and to see his mother (Marjorie Main). Despite Goldwyn's clout as an independent producer and Wyler's sensitivity as a director, this stage-to-screen transfer had to get past the Hays Office, and that meant that Kay Burton's status and Francey's syphilis could be suggested obliquely, but not mentioned out loud. But all the other theatrical elements remain intact, including the corrosive effect of slum life on children, as well as adults. The Dead End Kids evolved into the Bowery Boys, giving several of the kids here a regular paycheck well into middle age. They became a comic distortion of their desperate Dead End characters, all of whom seemed destined to wisecrack their way into early graves. AKA: Cradle of Crime.

1937 92m/B Sylvia Sidney, Joel McCrea, Humphrey Bogart, Wendy Barrie, Claire Trevor, Allen Jenkins, Marjorie Main, Billy Halop, Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan, Gabriel Dell, Leo Gorcey, Charles Halton, Bernard Punsley, Minor Watson, James Burke; D: William Wyler; W: Lillian Hellman; C: Gregg Toland; M: Alfred Newman. Nominations: Academy Awards ‘37: Best Cinematography, Best Interior Decoration, Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Trevor). VHS, LV

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