“Never go back; always go forward!”
In the New York tenements, a woman (Sylvia Sidney) secretly in love with her childhood friend (Joel McCrea) — who in turn pines for the beautiful mistress (Wendy Barrie) of a rich man — tries to protect her brother Tommy (Billy Halop) from being arrested after he injures the father (Minor Watson) of a snobby rich kid (Charles Peck). But the arrival of on-the-lam gangster Baby Face Martin (Humphrey Bogart) — in town to visit his mother (Marjorie Main) and former-girlfriend-turned-prostitute (Claire Trevor) — causes Halop and his friends Dippy (Huntz Hall), Angel (Bobby Jordan), Spit (Leo Gorcey), T.B. (Gabriel Dell), and Milty (Bernard Punsly) to view a life of crime as a lucrative ticket out of poverty.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Claire Trevor
- Class Relations
- Humphrey Bogart Films
- Joel McCrea Films
- Juvenile Delinquents
- Play Adaptations
- Sylvia Sidney Films
- William Wyler Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary points out that this “successful adaptation of Sidney Kingsley’s play” — featuring a “tough script by Lillian Hellman and strong yet sympathetic direction by William Wyler” — led “to a wave of juvenile-delinquent dramas”; indeed, it’s perhaps best known for kicking off a series of films featuring “The Dead End Kids”.
Because producer “Sam Goldwyn wouldn’t let Wyler film on location”, we “don’t get a sense of the grit, grime, claustrophobia, and heat of the slums” — but Peary argues that “the clean studio sets with their painted backdrops act much like a Brechtian alienation device that forces us to realize that this story isn’t self-contained but rather is representative of many tragic real-life stories of the urban poor”.
These days, Dead End comes across as an undeniably stage-bound but still compelling drama featuring fine cinematography and potent direction: each scene is expertly crafted, with dramatic black-and-white shadows metaphorically highlighting the abject distance between the river-bound slum and the wealthy tenants who literally look down on its residents. Bogart is well-cast in a role he first inhabited on Broadway:
and Sidney is appropriately doe-eyed yet stoic:
But the best performance is by Oscar-nominated Claire Trevor, who only appears onscreen for about five minutes yet packs a quietly devastating wallop.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- William Wyler’s direction
- Gregg Toland’s cinematography
- Claire Trevor as Francie
Yes, as a strong outing by a master filmmaker and for its historical relevance in introducing the “Dead End Kids” to the silver screen.
- Historically Relevant
- Important Director