Dead End (1937 )

Directed by William Wyler
Cinematography Gregg Toland

Dead End is a 1937 crime drama film directed by William Wyler. It is an adaptation of the Sidney Kingsley 1935 Broadway play of the same name. It stars Humphrey Bogart, Joel McCrea, and Sylvia Sidney. It is notable as being the first film appearance of the Dead End Kids.

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Dead End was filmed from May 3 through July 8, 1937.

Robert Osborne, film historian, stated that Joel McCrea had a tough time working with Humphrey Bogart, especially during the scene “…on the rooftop, guns ready, and standing very close to each other. During the filming of that scene, McCrea kept flinching and the director William Wyler had to keep doing more takes. Finally, Wyler pulled McCrea aside, and he asked him what was wrong. McCrea, embarrassed to tell him, explained that Bogart kept spitting in his face when he was speaking. Not exactly what Wyler was expecting to hear or to be the problem. Happens with actors more than you can imagine.

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Great visual beauties, direction, acting. A so-and-so story.

7 November 2002 | by pzanardo (pzanardo@math.unipd.it) (Padova, Italy) – See all my reviews

The main credit of “Dead End” lies in the stunning visual beauties. The studio reproduction of a New York slum is really magnificent, worth of other major achievements of the same kind, like, say, the set of “Rear Window”. A true joy for the eyes. The work of the camera and William Wyler’s direction are outstanding, as well. And, of course, the job of the cast is great. Bogart, still in the role of the villain, McCrea and Sylvia Sidney are excellent, and save their rather straightforward characters and lines. In my opinion, the best one is Claire Trevor, in the small part of the lost girl. I normally dislike kids on the screen, but I must concede that here they give great performances, playing the gang of street-boys.

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The story is conventional, with a noble message, but few and predictable twists. The script is often clumsy and preachy. Luckily enough, the director gives a quick pace to the narration and inserts a number of humoristic touches. There’s a main flaw in the plot: I think that, even in the States of the 1930s, a common citizen couldn’t freely shoot a gangster.

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Anyway, I’ve found in the screen-play an interesting and modern theme, namely the psychological ambiguity of some characters, whom even the all-knowing viewer cannot fully understand. For instance, Claire Trevor is apparently the cliche disgraced girl, the innocent victim of poverty, lack of opportunities, social injustice. To end as a prostitute is her unavoidable doom… But, when her former boy-friend Bogie gives some money to help her, she makes the horribly vulgar request of “twenty more bucks”… with a grimace worth of a hardened prostitute (great stuff by Trevor!). So we see that, after all, perhaps that girl is not so innocent as she pretends to be… And what about Drina’s brother, the leader of the street-boys?

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The audience is perfectly aware that, in spite of his whining, weeping self-apologies (when he’s in dire straits), the boy is a REAL criminal. We see that he deliberately harms people, steals, brutally thrashes the rich kid, wants to slash his gang-mate. And he just mocks his affectionate sister and his friend McCrea when, in tears, he cries that he’s good, that he didn’t intend to harm, and all that. So, are we supposed to feel sympathy for this hideous boy? Interesting ambiguity, which creates a fine artistic effect… perhaps beyond the actual intentions of the writer Lillian Hellman.

All in all, we may forgive the defects of the movie. it is worth seeing “Dead End”, enjoying the beauty of the set and the work of director and actors.

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Well Done — and a superb cameo

8/10
Author: felixoscar from New York, USA
4 December 2004

Considering all the talent involved, it was hardly surprising to find this a first rate movie. Didn’t you want to slap Bogart around … well, that is actually what compelled me to make this entry. Among the handful of superlative cameo (say 2 to 8 minutes in length)performances I have seen in my 40 plus years of movie-going, Dead End features one of them.

Marjorie Main, almost as unlikely a film character (think Ma Kettle!) as one could imagine, turned in what I consider a masterpiece. Read that she repeated her stage role, and wow, that slap, that dialog and that role. Bravo!

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The film turned out to be Bogart’s most significant film since “The Petrified Forest.”

7/10
Author: Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) from Mexico
17 January 2009

It offers a vivid portrait of people caught up in a continual fight to somehow satisfy themselves despite the oppressive environment that seemed to quiet their every attempt…

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Joel McCrea is a frustrated architect who dreams of tearing down the slums and Sylvia Sidney portrays a shopgirl struggling for identity and meaning in her life, a life made even more complicated by having to look after her brother (Billy Halop). The boy idolizes the decadent Bogart, an excessive admiration shared by the rest of the Dead End Kids, here recreating their original Broadway roles with noisy good humor…

Opposing these idealists is their real threat, Bogart, an assassin named Baby Face Martin… Bogart is impolitely rejected by a mother (Marjorie Main) who hates him and an ex-girl friend (Claire Trevor) who leaves him bitter and disillusioned when he discovers that she has become a hooker…

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Rebuked by those he had been sentimental enough to want to visit, he rapidly reverts to represent beforehand and plans a kidnapping in order to rescue something from the consumed affair…

“Dead End” remains one of Bogart’s best films, where the actor proves that he is capable of handling difficult material with considerable skill…

Still powerful

10/10
Author: preppy-3 from United States
17 August 2004

Excellent drama of the New York tenements of 1937 where the rich people live along the same street as the poor people. Movie focuses on two young lovers (Sylvia Sydney, Joel McCrea), killer Baby Face Martin (Humphrey Bogart) and the Dead End Kids (later to become the Bowery Boys).

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From the incredible opening shot it basically focuses on the kids–it shows the harrowing lives the kids have to live through and how Sydney and McCrea try to keep them good while Bogart teaches them how to rob and kill. Pretty graphic for its day and still strong. Excellent performances by all, especially Bogart, Sydney and Billy Halop (as one of the kids). Also Marjorie Main, Claire Trevor and Ward Bond shine in supporting roles.

This had huge censorship problems–it was adapted from a play and was HEAVILY cut (the language was MUCH stronger in the play and when the kids went swimming they weren’t wearing bathing suits!) and Warner Bros. had to fight to keep it strong. Aside from a nice, moral ending this is pretty gritty. A must-see and seeing Bogart, Sydney and McCrea so young is amusing.

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