The other night I watched Dead End (1937) which I had not seen in years. I was quite struck by it. Based on the Sidney Kingsley play, the screenplay is by Lillian Hellman and it is directed by William Wyler. It stars Joel McCrea, Sylvia Sidney and Humphrey Bogart, who are all first-rate, especially Bogart who is remarkably vulnerable as the vicious gangster whose heart is broken twice in one day.
Furthermore, the character actors really impressed me. Marjorie Main (Bogart’s mother) and Claire Trevor (Bogart’s former girlfriend)
each have one scene and they steal them impressively. The young boys in the movie are all good too–they must have impressed someone, as they got their own movie franchise–the Dead End Kids–as a result.
It’s a simple story about haves and have-nots, which takes place in an East Side slum, overlooked by the high-rise apartments of the rich. Although nobody is preaching anything, we all get the point. It is realistic and gritty and violent–but the grit and the violence are mostly inferred, suggested…
Hugh “Baby Face”: Why didn’t you get a job?
Francey: They don’t grow on trees.
Hugh “Baby Face”: Why didn’t you starve first?
Francey: Why didn’t YOU?
A strong screenplay, a great director and a terrific cast equals a classic movie that never becomes dated, because the feelings that are evoked are still the same eighty years later.
By the way, today is Sylvia Sidney’s birthday, so why not toast her, and, if you have the chance, watch this fine film!