Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Movie Review: Dead End (1937)

Once again, WOW. I love this movie. Not a complete 5 out of 5, but a very respectable 4 1/2 stars.

Based on the stage play of the same name, this film is about life down by the docks of the East River in NY. It is an interesting time, because very recently, the fashionable and rich moved into the area in big apartment buildings that overlooked the river and its "picturesque" views. With the fashionable front street closed for repairs, the rich must mingle with the poor on the back street.

A hot scorcher day in the slums. Its starts out like everyday with everyone getting up and starting the day. You meet the groups that define the area. The "Dead End Kids" who are pretty much hoodlums. They talk tough, act tough, and try hard to be tougher than the slums they grew up in. They're not a good bunch of kids. They've got it in for the rich kid who lives in the apartment looking over their turf. The leader of the Dead End Kids is Tommy Gordon. He lives with his sister, Drina(Sylvia Sidney), who has always slaved away in the slums to try and get a better life for herself and her brother. She is on strike from her work, trying to get a raise which will allow her to send Tommy someplace better. You meet Dave (Joel McRea), who grew up in the area, managed to escape to college and became an architecht. But, as one character says, jobs "don't grow on trees" and Dave is back in the tenants, doing odd jobs to pay his way. Dave has met and fallen for a girl named Kay, who is the fiance of one of the fashionable rich. Kay loves him too, but not where he comes from, or what he has. On this particular day we also meet "Baby Face" Martin (Humphrey Bogart), an infamous murderer who grew up in the area. Now a big-time gangster, he managed to get some face work done so that few can really recognize him. He has returned to see his mother (Marjorie Main) and his best girl Francey (Claire Trevor).
It's a great story with a lot of social problems seen and discussed. I imagine the play would be better at the moral part, but the film does okay. The set is fantastic and gritty. I loved so many of the shots used in this film. There is a fantastic lack of space, throughout the entire thing except at the docks, the "dead end." Beyond that is just the river. A lot of the settings have that wonderful sense of being very enclosed. When Kay goes into the tenants to meet Dave, her horror is perfectly justified in the way these people lived. But there is also a sense of doing the best with what you have. You always see people cleaning, painting, trying to improve their enviroment and their lives as much as possible. It says something about the people there, and the time it was made.

As far as acting goes, Sylvia Sidney is a little melodramatic, but appropriately so - her character has a beautiful moment of confessing her dream to Dave, and in that moment, you truly see the beauty in her; Joel McRea is fantastic - he is kind of the moral beacon of the piece, but you can see his struggles between what he wants and what he should do; Bogart is as amazing as always - he is constantly the gangster, but he's never the same one twice, and in this film you really see the man behind the story. But the two best performances for me came from Marjorie Main and Claire Trevor. They did not get much screen time, but they were fantastic. First of all, Main is usually a very specific character actress, and when I first saw her, I couldn't recognize her at all. She was so gripping! You could hear the various levels of disgust in her voice as well as the weariness and pain. Her scream near the end of the movie is shattering! And Claire Trevor was amazing as well. In her brief appearance she captured that character. You could see who she was, what she became, how it hurt her, and how she hated it. In her voice and eyes, you could see her anger and pain. I was fascinated. The movie doesn't say this, but in the script she has syphilis. She does say in the movie that she is "sick" What I love about this character is that she is truthful about it. Knowing that he has come back to take her with him, and to build a life with her, she shoves him away and tells him that she isn't good for him. After he truly looks at her, all she can manage to say is "What did you expect?" And that says it all. It's amazing.

I highly, HIGHLY reccommend this movie!
4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars!!

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