Man, does this come across as a staged play. That's not all bad. The set is complicated but functional and, like most stage sets, looks highly "lived in." Yes, we can believe the Dead End Kids built a fire in an ash can and roasted some stolen potatoes on the ends of sticks. At least on this tiny dock we can. Act One: The characters are introduced. A handful of rough, coarse kids who steal, lie, hate the cops, sneer at the rich kid, dive off the dock into the East River where they all catch Chinese liver flukes and die, scar each other's cheeks with "da mock of da squealah" when somebody rats on somebody else, wear beanies, break windows, smash furniture, and help old ladies across the street. Then there is Sylvia Sydney as a striking factory worker, trying to make ends meet while supporting the younger brother who is one of the gang. There is Joel MacRea as an unemployed architect sprung from the loins of these tenements. Humphrey Bogart shortly appears, but he's more properly part of Act II. He's "Baby Face Martin," a brutal gangster ("seven guys -- you could be da eighth"), who's returned to his origins for a look at the old joint and to meet his Ma and his girl friend Francey, neither of whom he's seen in ten years while on the lam. Bogart is barely out of his Duke Mantee phase. This time he carries only one elbow cocked, instead of both. Well, Ma isn't particularly glad to see him. Ma (Marjorie Main) slaps his face and says, "Yew dirty dog, yewww," in what must be the most mannered performance of the year, or maybe the whole decade. "I killed a guy for lookin' at me da way you're lookin' at me now," Baby Face tells his Mom angrily. Francey, his ex-girl, turns out to be a whore and tries to bum a couple more dollars off him. Bogart loses first his illusions and then his life in a shoot out with MacRea. End of Act II. Act III is, let's say, anticlimactic, what with Bogie gone and all. The last act should wrap up any loose ends but there really aren't any to wrap up except that one of the Boys has impulsively cut a judge's brother and the victim, while understanding, feels it best for the kid to be sent to a reform school where (so believes the judge's brother) he might be taught a trade and make an honest living. Will it happen? Not a chance. Half the gang have already been in and out of the same reform school. As the half-grown knife wielder is led away by the cops, one of the gang counsels him to look up Smokey, he'll take care of ya. What a lot of anger in this screenplay (Sidney Kingsley and Lillian Hellman). The identified enemy, however, is not the rich, who are portrayed as no more than indifferent and naive, but not stupid or cruel. And the tenement dwellers and their kids are hardly saints. The Dead End Kids exit at the end singing brightly, "If I Had the Wings of an Angel," after one of their members is hauled off to the slams. Nope, the evildoer here is not an individual, not even a social class. It's the system itself. The system is never identified by name, but "capitalism" would be a good guess. This was the 1930s and the Great Depression was considered one of capitalism's more brutal manifestations by the socially engaged. I wonder what Kingsley and Hellman would have to say about the current proposal to eliminate the estate tax? Those bumps you just felt were from the writers rolling over a bit in their graves.
Crime / Drama / Film-Noir
Crime / Drama / Film-Noir
The lives of a young man and woman, an infamous gangster and a group of street kids converge one day in a volatile New York City slum.
August 4, 2020