Dead End – 1937

Dead End Poster

My Review

—A Strong Cast Makes This a Classic—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

4 Bogie

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out of 5 Bogies!

Director: William Wyler

The Lowdown

A down on his luck architect (Joel McCrea) is pulled between two women (Sylvia Sidney and Wendy Barrie), a gangster on the run (Bogart) visits his old stomping grounds, and a group of street kids (The ‘Dead End’ Kids) make the best out of their lives in the slums of New York.

What I Thought

Based on the hit Broadway play of the same name, Dead End is theater brought to the big screen in the best possible ways. An ensemble piece that takes it’s time letting characters interact in more private, high-stake conversations, Director William Wyler keeps the most important essence of any great stage drama alive; the audience gets to watch people struggle through life-altering decisions in real time right before their eyes. Dialogue is king here, giving the top billed stars plenty to chew on as they pinball between one another, sorting out their lives while altering the lives of everyone around them at the same time.

Key to much of what works here is Art Director Richard Day as he does an amazing job creating a studio set that looks like the real New York, but at the same time retains the claustrophobic feeling of a large group of people struggling to be noticed on a theatre stage. The atmosphere brings the caged mood of the slums to life – characters can see the wonder and shine of the world beyond their neighborhood, but they know that they’ll never get there.

It’s the film that earned The ‘Dead End’ Kids their name, having been brought from New York where they originated their roles on stage. Many of the film’s strongest moments come between the boys and Bogart as he takes an interest in them after recognizing his own childhood reflected in their behavior. It would lead to a multi-film collaboration between the kids and the soon-to-be superstar, but make no mistake, this is their strongest film together.

Director Wyler does a great job of letting each character, no matter how small the role, shine in their own moments without stealing the overall focus of the film. (See Claire Trevor below.) Does Bogart outshine the film’s actual leads? Maybe, but it’s not his fault. The role is written so well that I don’t think his charisma could have been bottled up any more than it already was. I’m excited to write up Wyler’s future Bogart collaboration, The Desperate Hours.

A must see gangster role for Bogart, there’s more than enough here to please any classic film fan.

The Bogart Factor

Playing ‘Baby Face’ Martin, this is one of Bogart’s most fleshed-out gangster roles. While on paper it might not look like much – a criminal running from the cops who stops by to see his old flame and his mother one more time – a lot of expectations get turned on their heads when both interactions don’t follow the typical Hollywood formula.

It’s a role where we get to see Bogart thinking out loud, saying just as much with his facial expressions and mannerisms as he does with his dialogue. Perhaps one of his best portrayals of internal turmoil, I’m a little surprised that this part isn’t more talked about when people list his greatest performances. ‘Baby Face’ Martin seems like a younger, ever-so-slightly more hopeful, version of Duke Mantee just as he turns the corner from confidence to fatalism.

For the scenes between Bogart and his mother (Marjorie Main reprising her role from the original play), as well as Bogart and Trevor, this film’s an acting clinic for how to handle disappointment with a character in film. Both scenes are incredibly strong moments that give us a great glimpse of Bogart’s skill at listening and reacting to his costars onscreen.

And how many roles has Bogart played where he’s a gangster who’s gotten plastic surgery to hide? I smell a future post coming up. . .

The Cast

Joel McCrea plays Dave, the unemployed architect who’s taking odd jobs to make ends meet while he courts Kay Barrie and keeps Sylvia Sidney on the line just in case. McCrea if very good here, and it’s no fault of his that the rest of the cast is so strong that we forget his storyline until he shows up now and again. His character arc is one of the best of the film, and his final confrontation with Bogart and Allen Jenkins is just about as taut and suspenseful as a film climax can get.

Sylvia Sidney plays Drina, the lower class gal that’s sweet on McCrea and can’t stand the fact that he’s after a woman of higher means. Again, Sidney is great here, but it’s not one of the roles from the film that you’ll remember as the overall cast is just too good. I’m excited to see her again in The Wagons Roll at Night where she gets a little more of the spotlight on her own.

Wendy Barrie plays Kay, the upper class woman who seems to think that McCrea is a diamond in the rough. Barrie and McCrea have good chemistry together, and you can feel the desperation in each performance as both seem to see each other as more of a ‘rescue’ than a life partner.

Claire Trevor plays Francey, Bogart’s ex who’s turned to prostitution to make ends meet. The scene they share coupled with the scene of Bogart being chastised by his mother are, I believe, two of the most powerful scenes from Bogart’s entire career. Director Wyler had to leave out the overt references to both prostitution and syphilis in the scene she shares with Bogart here, but what’s left unsaid is even more powerful. Their sexual tension is off the charts. When they stand an inch away from one another before Bogart tries to kiss her, it feels like someone’s hold back two magnets from clanging together. Yes, Trevor is only in the film for a few minutes, but it was such a strong showing that she was nominated for an Oscar. That should be all you need to know!

Allen Jenkins plays Bogart’s right hand henchman, Hunk. What can I say? I really love Jenkins, and it pains me a little bit that I can’t put him into The Usual Suspects portion of the blog yet. (I only enter folks after I’ve seen all of their Bogart collaborations, and Racket Busters is indefinitely unavailable!) I might just have to do a partial write up sometime because Jenkins is a go-to character actor for solid performances. While this role leans a little more on the melodrama than the comic relief that Jenkins was so good at, it’s a real testament to his talent that we believe he’s the heavy that he’s supposed to be.

The ‘Dead End’ Kids turn in an incredibly strong performance as they recreate the roles that they played on Broadway. Billy Halop, Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, Gabriel Dell, and Bernard Punsly seem to have a natural chemistry, and it’s easy to see why they were able to parlay this film into a career together.

Classic Bogie Moment

Come on, it’s Allen Jenkins and Bogart as two of the best dressed gangsters in New York! How could I not go with a pic from these two?

Bogart Jenkins

The Bottom Line

If my Bogart DVD collection had to be cut in half, I’d probably want this one in the mix.

Angels With Dirty Faces – 1938

Angels with dirty faces

My Review

—A Must See Cagney Film—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

Full Bogie out of 5 bogies!

Director: Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

Two childhood friends (James Cagney and Pat O’Brien) grow up and go down very different paths after a run-in with the police. One becomes a gangster, and the other a priest.

What I Thought

This film was one of the biggest gaps in my Bogart / Classic Film knowledge. I’ve read a lot about it, had it recommended numerous times, and have even come close to actually viewing it on occasion, but this was the first that time I’ve seen it in its entirety.

Did it live up to the hype? For the first hour – no. Not that I thought it was bad, because it’s actually very good. Cagney is amazing, and my appreciation for him continues to grow. It’s the first Pat O’Brien film I’ve seen so far where I thought that he really got to play a 3-dimensional character, and now I’m starting to understand what all the fuss is about. Plus, I got a little dose of Ann Sheridan, which is always a good thing!

I just didn’t think it was as good as everyone had told me. Up until the last fifteen minutes of the film I was ready to rank this one just below The Roaring Twenties. The script is good, but not great. Director Michael Curtiz does a fine job, but it’s a far cry from Casablanca. And then there’s the fact that Bogart is hardly in the film despite high billing and lots of presence in the advertising.

Then I got to the ending . . . wow.

Without giving anything away (in case you’re also behind on seeing this film), Cagney’s final scene is so powerful that I’m still reeling from it two days after watching the film. The movie certainly didn’t have to end that way. It could have gone with a more audience-friendly finish. Yet Curtiz, Cagney, and O’Brien take what was a good film and elevate it to great with just the last fifteen minutes.

I’ll save my praise for Cagney until later in this post, but if you aren’t haunted by his final moments in this film (where we see nothing but Cagney’s hands!), then you might want to double check whether or not you have a soul. Supposedly Cagney played his final scene with enough ambiguity that the audience wouldn’t know exactly why he was saying what he was saying. Was it honest? Was it a show for his friend and for the press? The choice to play it that way was genius, and makes it my favorite moment of any film of Cagney’s I’ve seen.

The Bogart Factor

If you’re here for a Bogart fix, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The man is barely in it, and when he is it’s a horribly small and two-dimensional lawyer turned gangster character.

Bogart plays James Frazier, a lawyer who goes into business for himself as a racketeer after he swipes a hundred thousand dollars off of Cagney after Cagney is sentenced to a long prison stint. Most of the role is spent sniveling into a phone, or sniveling to his partner in crime (George Bancroft), or just plain sniveling for his life from Cagney.

Bogart’s trying, but there’s literally nothing here to work with. Why have two crooks in Bogart and Bancroft? Why not just consolidate them into one role and give it a little more meat? It’s probably the biggest shortcoming of the script that we don’t get a better antagonist to work against Cagney’s attempt at creating a new criminal empire.

The Cast

James Cagney plays Rocky Sullivan, the small time hood who grows up to be a big time criminal. Cagney’s onscreen charisma is off the charts in every starring role that I’ve seen, and perhaps there needs to be a Cagney Film Blog somewhere down the road. He more than capably pulls off an incredible amount of likability from the audience even while we watch him do some pretty lowdown things to his friends and the kids he begins to mentor. Perhaps the gift that I appreciate the most is the fact that you can always see Cagney’s mind racing, as if he’s thinking one or two steps ahead of the current plan, racing his mind to cover all the bases. This is great, great, Cagney. And like I mentioned earlier, his delivery of his final lines is so emotionally painful, it’s a rare thing for a movie from this era to disturb me so deeply.

Pat O’Brien plays Father Jerry Connolly, Cagney’s childhood friend and former fellow hoodlum. After Cagney’s arrested and begins a life of crime, O’Brien’s Father Jerry finds the straight and narrow and dedicates his life to helping juvenile delinquents get a shot at a better life. After several films in which I really wasn’t a fan of O’Brien (China Clipper, San Quentin), I have to say that I was really impressed here. His character had a lot more nuance and subtext than the last two films, and O’Brien made me believe he was a man with a darker past. I admit that I was caught completely off guard when he slugged the patron at the bar for giving him a hard time. It was a realistic moment of fury that helped show the fine balance O’Brien was taking to toe the line between ex-criminal and clergyman.

Ann Sheridan plays Laury Ferguson, and GOOD GRIEF is she underused in this film. After falling in love with her in It All Came True, I was pretty anxious to see her in another leading lady role – but this ain’t it! There’s a few moments of promise at the beginning when she starts a relationship with Cagney, but after that, Sheridan is relegated to occasionally popping up to fret over the men of the film and try not to look out of place even though she has little to do. I’m going to have to keep searching for another great Sheridan role I guess . . .

George Bancroft plays Bogart’s partner in crime, Mac Keefer. There seems to be a little more depth here than what Bogart got to play with, but not much. I liked Bancroft and his team of thugs, but I never really bought that any of them were a real threat to Cagney.

The “Dead End” Kids basically play themselves. They are one of the strongest points of the film, and they all get a little more time to shine than they did in Crime School, as their screen time is divided up a little more evenly and Billy Halop doesn’t take all the good lines. What’s most entertaining to me is that this is apparently the film where Bogart finally got fed up with their bad behavior after they stole some of his pants and lobbed fire crackers at him. (Cagney supposedly smacked Leo Gorcy for adlibbing!) The boys are very charismatic, and add quite a few good moments of levity to the film.

Classic Bogie Moment

Not much to work with here! So I’ll just go with a pic that illustrates how no one could smoke like Bogie could smoke –

Angels classic

The Bottom Line

Even though Bogart gets shortchanged, you need to see this one just for Cagney’s performance!

Crime School – 1938

Crime School Poster

My Review

—A Mixed Bag— 

Your Bogie Film Fix:

1.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Lewis Seiler

The Lowdown

A gang of inner city youths (The “Dead End” Kids) are sent to a reformatory school that’s in the process of its own reformation when the new Deputy Commissioner of Corrections (Humphrey Bogart) takes over.

What I Thought

This was the first of five collaborations that Director Lewis Seiler did with Bogart, none of which will probably end up being placed in the top 10 of either man’s filmography.  (Although, I’ll contend that It All Came True is a real hidden gem of a comedy).

A remake of 1933’s The Mayor of Hell, the plot, pace, and style of Crime School is also almost identical to another Bogart film that came out just a year before – San Quentin, except now Bogart is in the role of the prison reformer that James Cagney (Mayor) and Pat O’Brien (San Quentin) both previously played.  Crime School is also incredibly similar to another film by Bogart, “Dead End” kid Billy Halop, Gale Page, and Director Seiler that would come out a year later – You Can’t Get Away With Murder, as once again Halop plays a good kid who’s made some bad choices and just needs the right mentoring.  Page would even go on to play the exact same character of an exasperated older sister in You Can’t Get Away With Murder.

So as you’ve probably already guessed, there’s nothing new or groundbreaking going on in Crime School.  That’s not to say it’s terrible – it’s not.  The performances are all decent, the direction is straight forward, and the plot is the “kid friendly” version of what we saw between Bogart and Pat O’Brien in San Quentin.  All that being said, it’s probably not a must-see unless you’re a big Bogart fan, or you really like the “Dead End” kids.

The Bogart Factor

The relationship between Bogart and Halop is by far the strongest asset to this film.  Playing Deputy Commissioner Mark Braden, Bogart is able to pull off a slightly less bland version of a prison reformer than O’Brien was able to.

It is one of the few roles that Bogart’s had where he’s an honest-to-goodness decent and likable guy.  There’s no trace of anger, jealousy, deceit, selfishness, doubt, or dishonesty whatsoever.  It’s nice to see him play such a good character, but at the same time, it kind of sucks all the possibility for any character development right out of the film.  It’s the same complaint I had about O’Brien in San Quentin.  The only difference here, and what I think elevates Crime School slightly above San Quentin, is that Bogart isn’t the main character (like O’Brien in San Quentin) – Halop is.  So we do get to see a somewhat satisfying character arc play out through Halop rather than just watching one person tread water and never change.

The Cast

Billy Halop plays Frankie Warren, the leader of the youth gang that gets sent to the reform school.  Halop is young and green, and it’s another typical “young thug” role for the actor, but he once again holds his own against Bogart.  I still maintain that someone at Warner Brothers was trying to build another B-movie Bogart out of Halop.

Leo Gorcey plays another one of the youth gang, Spike.  Gorcey is the real standout of the film as he gets to play a role that spends much more time in the gray area between good and bad.  It’s a pretty good testament to his acting ability that we can swing between hating him and loving him in the span of the last fifteen minutes of the film.

Gale Page plays Frankie’s older sister, Sue Warren – the EXACT same character she would go on to play a year later in You Can’t Get Away With Murder.  Really?  Another underwritten older sister role?  Page had to have been a little frustrated with the typecasting.  Who knows though, maybe she just loved working with Seiler, Bogart, and Halop.

Cy Kendall plays the abusive corrections officer, Morgan, that Bogart fires and replaces.  He makes a good bad guy, and feels adequately menacing for the role.

Weldon Heyburn plays Morgan’s right hand guard, Cooper, and he’s able to pull off a decent role as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” while spying on Bogart for his old Boss.  I liked him here a lot, but could not get over the fact that he has the exact same voice as Peter Graves.  It’s eerie, I tell ya!

I’m going to lump the rest of the “Dead End” kids together.  Not because they weren’t good, but because they all kind of blend together as their roles aren’t as fleshed out as Halop’s and Gorcey’s.

Classic Bogie Moment

While it was a big part, there wasn’t a whole lot to pick from here as Mark Braden isn’t exactly Bogart’s most colorful role.  But check out this pic below.  Was there anyone who could convey the message of “I’m not impressed” as well as Bogart?  Halop, acting tough and brave, walks into Braden’s office and Bogart plays it as if he’s looking at a younger version of himself – which he sort of is, considering that Halop’s got a character that Bogart played about a dozen times early on in his career:

Crime School classic

The Bottom Line

If you like nice guy Bogart, check it out.  It’s definitely not the worst movie in his filmography, but it’s not a great Bogart fix.

You Can’t Get Away With Murder – 1939

You Cant Get Away With Murder

My Review

—Decent Melodrama— 

Your Bogie Film Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Lewis Seiler

The Lowdown

Johnnie Stone (Billy Halop) is a teenager heading down a dangerous path after he falls in with small time gangster Frank Wilson (Humphrey Bogart).  After being sentenced to Sing Sing Prison for a gas station holdup, Johnnie is torn when his soon to be brother-in-law, Fred (Harvey Stephens), joins him in prison after getting the death penalty for a murder in which Frank and Johnnie were actually involved.

What I Thought

I had to wonder while watching this film if Warner Brothers wasn’t trying to create a new B-movie Bogart gangster with Billy Halop.  One of The Dead End Kids, this was the fourth film that Halop made with Bogart (Dead End, Crime School, Angels With Dirty Faces), and Bogart was clearly an influence on the young actor’s style and presence.

The melodrama can skew a little heavy as Halop wrestles with his secrets while in prison.  There are multiple crying-into-the-elbow moments, and a few “You ain’t the bossa me!” teenage rebellion outbursts with Johnnie’s sister.  While Halop occasionally appears a little green and the sibling tension often seems unmotivated, there are some flashes of good work in his performance.

The film is very watchable, despite the fact that there were a few plot points that I had issues with.  Why was Johnnie so dead set on making trouble when he was surrounded by people who loved him?  Was there supposed to be motivation for his behavior implied by the fact that he had absentee parents?  Why wouldn’t his sister Madge (Gale Page) instantly assume that he and Frank were responsible for the murder after they’re busted for the other robbery?  When faced with a more than typically friendly prison staff and inmates, why does Johnnie wait so long to spill the beans on Frank?

I ended up feeling that Director Seiler was a scene or two short in setting up the unbreakable bond between Johnnie and Frank.  I know that the lure of money and power can be overwhelming for a young kid without direction, but once they were in prison, what kept Johnnie loyal, almost to the bitter end?

Problems aside, there are numerous good scenes of comedy, action, and drama which all help elevate the film above a subpar script.

The Bogart Factor

Playing another one of his “young punks” who thinks he has the world by the tail (á la Up the River, The Bad Sister, Big City Blues, Midnight/Call It Murder, etc.), Bogart gets a good deal of time to flesh out his wannabe-gangster persona as he leads young Johnnie astray.  There’s plenty of cool talk and gun play as the elder thug mentors his protégé on the fine art of the criminal lifestyle.

While not fleshed out to a fully three-dimensional character, Bogart’s still very good as the murdering thief whose over-confidence in his own skills continues to trip him up.  Playing the film’s main antagonist, Bogart’s able to pose a physical and psychological threat to Halop with his performance despite the fact that the script doesn’t give Halop a lot of motivation to fall under Bogart’s sway.

Is it Bogart’s best bad guy role?  Not by a longshot.  It’s not even in the top ten.  But I can’t blame the studio for hiring the guy who could look cool, talk tough, and handle a gun better than anyone else to fill the role.

The Cast

Billy Halop as Johnnie Stone deepens his “street tough” persona beyond what we’ve come to expect from The Dead End Kids.  He often tips the line into over-playing his emotions, but what young actor from the time doesn’t?  Even Bogart had to feel his way through a few dozen films before he fully grasped the importance subtlety and nuance.

Gale Page plays Johnnie’s older sister, Madge, and she does all right with a character who only appears when plot advancement requires it.  Page worked a number of films with Bogart in supporting roles, so it’s always good to see her, but she definitely deserved more depth than this.

Harvey Stephens plays Fred Burke, the fiancé to Madge, and he suffers from the same lack of character development that she does.  Existing for little other purpose than the movie-goer’s sympathy, Fred comes and goes whenever Johnnie needs an extra emotional push to move the story along to the next level.  Stephens doesn’t get the time to shine here as he did in The Oklahoma Kid.

Henry Travers plays Pop, the old timer librarian that tries to mentor Johnnie into a better man.  It’s a character that we immediately expect Henry Travers to play, so there’s no new ground broken here for the well know character actor, but Travers is always a treat, so it’s great to see him.

George E. Stone, Harold Huber, and Bogie Film Blog favorite Joe Sawyer all show up in roles as inmates alongside Bogart and Halop – each with their own great character quirks and scene-stealing moments.  It was especially fun to see Sawyer as Red since it’s the only Bogie film in my memory where Sawyer plays a good guy.  We’re even left with an ambiguous ending for Red as he disappears over the wall.  Did they catch him?  I hope not!  After all those gangster and inmate roles, he deserves at least ONE successful escape!

Don’t Forget to Notice

The stuntmen on this film deserve a lot of credit for the prison escape scene.  Two falls have to happen off of a wall that’s somewhere between fifteen and twenty feet high.  The second one looks incredibly painful, and there’s no appearance of padding or trickery.  I winced for sure!

Classic Bogie Moment

I mentioned the same thing about Cagney in a previous post, but Bogart is an actor that can put on any costume and still look cool.  Fancy gangster suit?  You bet!  Down on his luck bum?  Sure.  Cowboy outfit?  Well . . . except for those silly hats, yes!  To put a bullet point behind it though, just take a gander at these pics of Bogart in his prison gear:

bogart classic 4
With Halop and Travers

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bogart classic 3

This is a prime example of the man making the clothes.

The Bottom Line

Not a must see for non-diehards, but there are a few good glimmers of fun and talent to enjoy here.