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Dead End
Dead End: Cradle of Crime

USA 1937
produced by
Samuel Goldwyn
directed by William Wyler
starring Sylvia Sidney, Joel McCrea, Humphrey Bogart, Wendy Barrie, Claire Trevor, Allen Jenkins, Marjorie Main, the Dead End Kids (Billy Halop, Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan, Gabriel Dell, Bernard Punsly), Charles Peck, Minor Watson, James Burke, Ward Bond, Elisabeth Risdon, Esther Dale, George Humbert, Marcelle Corday
screenplay by Lillian Hellman, based on the play by Sidney Kingsley, music by Alfred Newman

Dead End Kids, later East Side Kids, Bowery Boys

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Manhattan, New York, the lower East Side, riverside: It's a place littered with people most hard hit by the depression, people who have to fend for their lives on a daily basis, living in places a little better than holes. Their kids have little choice other than prowling the streets all day, and it's only a question of time before they get into trouble. And right next to this neighbourhood are the backdoors of rich folks' homes, and you can see onto their balconies where they seem to have parties all day and all night.

Baby Face Martin (Humphrey Bogart) has grown up in such a neighbourhood. He has since become a big time gangster, and has famously killed eight people. Sure, technically he's on the run from the police, but a bit of surgery keeps him out of their clutches just a little longer. These days, he has returned to his old neighbourhood, to reconcile with his old mother (Marjorie Main) and reconnect with an old love (Claire Trevor) - but the old woman wants to have nothing more to do with him, while his former flame has since become a prostitute. Though frustrated by this, Baby Face still refuses to leave his old neighbourhood just like that, as he sees himself in Tommy (Billy Halop) and his gang of young hoodlums (Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Gabriel Dell, Bobby Jordan, Bernard Punsly), who spend their time prowling the streets, committing petty crimes and looking for trouble. But then Tommy finds himself on the run after he had a run in with who turned out to be a judge's brother (Minor Watson).

Dave (Joel McCrea) was in school with Baby Face once, and grew up in the same neighbourhood, but while Baby Face ditched school before too long to become a criminal bigshot, Dave stayed honest and became an architect - and remained dirt poor as a result. He and Tommy's archetypical good girl sister Drina (Sylvia Sidney) are somehow a couple, but he actually feels drawn to the next-door rich girl Kay (Wendy Barrie) - and she feels drawn to him as well, but somehow can't accept the poverty he lives in.

Eventually, Dave gets into an argument with Baby Face which results in a shoot-out ... and Baby Face's death. Dave suddenly finds himself in possession of a healthy lump of reward money, which works like a magnet on Kay. Around that time though, Spit (Leo Gorcey) snitches on Tommy, and Tommy manages to evade arrest only just - but he's so obsessed with catching the snitch that he blows all caution in the wind and almost gets arrested. Dave and Drina though persuade him to give himself up rather than spending a life on the run and becoming a celebrated corpse like Baby Face. And Dave promises to get Tommy the best lawyer in town ... with the reward money that he could have burned with Kay.


Dead End, a phenomenal success when released and the film that gave us the later Bowery Boys, is a film that actually hasn't aged too well: It's a bit too stagey to work as a movie - little wonder then that it started life as a stageplay (with the same Dead End Kids in the leads, actually) - and it's a bit too clichéed to spark too much interest. At the same time though, it's easy to see why the film was as successful as it was when originally released: It pretty much hit a nerve with contemporary audiences, featured a story that seems to be "ripped from the headlines", went for realism rather than glamourisation (even if it was obviously entirely filmed on a soundstage), and it told its story in an entertaining way and with the prerequisite moral ending at the end.

So yeah, while the film might not have aged too well, it's still a great document of the time it was made in and is probably best watched as such.


review © by Mike Haberfelner


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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD