Released – August, 1937
Directed By – William Wyler
Starring – Sylvia Sidney (Drina), Joel McCrea (Dave), Humphrey Bogart (‘Baby Face’ Martin), Wendy Barrie (Kay), Claire Trevor (Francie), & The Dead End Kids
Description – THE GREATEST GANGSTER THRILLER THAT EVER EXPLODED FROM THE SCREEN!
A lot can happen of the East Side of New York in 24 hours. Along side the luxury apartments built by the wealthy to take advantage of the picturesque East River are the filthy tenements that house the poor and destitute.
At the end of the block is a dock for the East River that is the territory of the Dead End Kids, a small gang of youths that are already on their way to a life of crime. Tommy Gordon is the leader of the gang who idolizes Baby Face Martin a former resident who has graduated to “full-fledged” mobster.
Tommy has a sister, Drina, who dreams of marrying a rich stranger who will take her and Tommy out of the slum before Tommy turns out no better than Baby Face who just so happens to have returned to his old stomping ground to visit his mother and old girlfriend.
Dave Connell also lives in the neighborhood. He is a childhood friend of Drina and an unemployed architect who gets by taking odd jobs. Dave is in love with Kay Burton, but not even love is simple here. Kay is a rich man’s mistress who, although she loves Dave, knows that he could never provide her the lifestyle that she desires.
Their hard life is about to get a little harder. Tommy and the gang decide to rough up one of the rich kids who lives in the luxury apartments. The boys father intervenes and Tommy stabs him in the arm and must go into hiding from the police.
As for Baby Face, his mother rejects him due to his life as a gangster. While visiting his former girlfriend Francie, Baby Face is disgusted by her current life. Francie has become a prostitute and is sick with syphilis.
With his homecoming visit a dismal failure, Baby Face Martin decides to kidnap the rich kid for ransom in order to have made his trip somewhat rewarding. From this point on everyone’s life seems destined for disaster.
NOTABLE: Dead End received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Claire Trevor), Best Art Direction, and Best Cinematography.
Claire Trevor’s Oscar nomination was a bit of a surprise considering her time on screen was limited to one scene lasting under five minutes.
Director William Wyler had hoped to shoot the film on location, but Producer Samuel Goldwyn insisted it be done in the studio. The result was such a convincing re-creation that Art Director Richard Day received an Oscar nomination.
Although it is clear in the story that the character of Francie is a prostitute suffering from syphilis the censors required that the actual terms of her employment and disease be veiled.
The film is based on an original Broadway play that ran for 687 performances.
The role of Baby Face Martin was given to Humphrey Bogart after first being refused by actor George Raft. Bogart was chosen after his performance, a year earlier, in the film The Petrified Forest.
Dead End provided the film debuts of Billy Halop, Huntz Hall, Gabriel Dell, Bobby Jordan, Bernard Punsly, Leo Gorcey, David Gorcey. The group would later evolve into The East Side Kids and then the Bowery Boys. In total, they would appear in seven films.