For Reel

Dead End (1937)
July 24, 2012, 5:47 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: William Wyler

When the pre-Code era came to its end in 1934, so too came the end of the romantic portrayal of the gangster. Films like Scarface, The Public Enemy, and Little Caesar were shortly replaced with ‘G’ Men, which turned the law enforcement officers into the heroes. In 1937, William Wyler’s Dead End marked the next significant turn in the American gangster ethos, starting a trend of films that focused on youth delinquency, crime prevention, and the perils of poverty. It was the picture which first introduced film-going audiences to the Dead End Kids – later dubbed the East Side Kids, the Little Tough Guys, and, most prolifically, the Bowery Boys – a group of young actors from New York who reprised their roles from Sidney Kingsley’s play. Under the director/producer team of William Wyler and Samuel Goldwyn, Dead End is a modestly powerful saga that contrasts the lives of two former hooligans of the slum; Humphrey Bogart, who continued a life of crime; and Joel McCrea, who became honest. McCrea, the everyman, is forgettable, but Bogart’s psychologically complex gangster is one of the best of his early performances, conveying a tragic sense of regret and bitterness having lost the favor of his mother and discovering that his ex-girlfriend has become a prostitute. Art director Richard Day’s set is memorable, establishing a sense of isolation with the thin alleyways, and famed cinematographer Gregg Toland contributes some terrific visuals, including a highly stylized shoot-out with dense fog and dramatic lighting.