Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Oh dear: Dead End isn't on DVD either

TCM's third Wednesday for Star of the Month Joel McCrea kicks off at 8:00 PM with Dead End. I didn't notice until today that it doesn't seem to have an in-print DVD, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing.

McCrea plays Dave, a would-be architect living in a tenement district in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the mid-1930s. He's in love with shop girl Drina (Sylvia Sidney). Both would like to leave the tenement district; he by remaking it into affordable housing for all, and she by moving up economically. But their relationship is only part of the story. Drina is also looking after her kid brother Tommy (Billy Halop). Tommy seems to spend his days idly with his friends, raising a ruckus and in one case taking advantage of a rich kid who lives just down the road.

Into all of this walks Baby Face Martin (Humphrey Bogart). He's a famous gangster who used to live in the area many years ago and is coming back to see his mother (Marjorie Main) and his old girlfriend Francey (Claire Trevor) -- only to find that both women have changed.

In some ways, Dead End is a slice of life movie about the neighborhood where all these people live, although there's also a bigger plot about Tommy and his friends looking up to Baby Face, and Baby Face being on the run from the police, something which leads Dave to try to influence the kids to do better than they could following Baby Face. As for those police, they show up courtesy of the parents of the rich kid Tommy and his friends took advantage of earlier in the movie....

Dead End was released in 1937, at a time when McCrea and Sidney were the actors who would have been known well enough to get top billing. (Bogart had actually already made The Petrified Forest, but the rest of his really good roles were to come along later.) Although they've got top billing, they aren't quite the stars. Bogart unsurprisingly puts in another memorable performance. But it's also Billy Halop and his friends for whom this was a seminal motion picture. Those friends, played by juvenile actors like Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall, became known as the "Dead End Kids" as a result of this movie, and it pretty much typecast them. As the Dead End Kids, they wound up at Warner Bros., where they appeared alongside James Cagney in Angels With Dirty Faces and John Garfield in They Made Me a Criminal, in both cases nearly stealing the show. Gorcey, Hall, and a couple of others, would go on to morph into the Bowery Boys, who were of course the stars of a series of ultra-low budget comedies until the mid-1950s.

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