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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Just Another Day in Paradise

Dead End (1937) on IMDb

Every street in New York ends in a river. For many years the dirty banks of the East River were lined with the tenements of the poor. Then the rich, discovering that the river traffic was pictur­esque, moved their houses east­ward. And now the terraces of these great apartment houses look down into the windows of the tenement poor.—Opening credits prologue

“That's almost impossible to explain—how you feel when you're a kid and the king pimps come back to the neighbor­hood. They pose and twirl their watch chains and sport their new Cadillacs and Rollses and expensive tailored clothes. … It's making it. That's what it meant where I come from—proving you're a man.”
“And when you proved it, what did you want?”
“Just to play music, that's all.”

Charles Mingus
Beneath the Underdog

Plot Overview

“Dead End” (1937) plays like a fleshed-out illustration of George F. Gilder's chapter on Ghetto “Liberation.” He states in it the obvious, that “money is an essential force in social relations and motivations of the middle and upper classes” (115.) Here we have Drina (Sylvia Sidney) working as a seam­stress in a garment factory but she's currently on strike hoping to succeed with a small increase in wage. She's been carrying a torch for struggling architect Dave Connell (Joel McCrea) who has lofty goals but so far only gets scraps of trade. Mean­while, Miss Kay Burton (Wendy Barrie) is spending time with Dave but is torn between him and offers from a rich man she doesn't fancy, while her preference Dave is low on resources. Mean­while, eight-time killer Baby Face Martin (Humphrey Bogart) has returned in disguise to look up his ex-flame Francey (Claire Trevor) whose health has been compromised by the street, though she still cares for him.

Stealing the scenes are some street urchins the “Dead End Kids” (Billy Halop, Huntz Hall, Leo Gorcey, Gabe Dell, Bernard Punsley, and Bobby Jordan) whose mischief is cute on-screen (“'Enemies of society' it says in the papers”), but they fulfill Gilder's observation that, “even a relatively small proportion of unsocialized males can make life miserable for thousands of conventional citizens in a modern urban environment. The apparent swash­buckling hedonism of the male counter­culture, more­over, exerts a strong appeal to almost every man. Thus unsocialized men can have a disruptive influence—as well as direct violent impact—far beyond their numbers” (113). Here they have a disruptive influence on the new kid in town and a direct violent impact on the rich kid upstairs.

Drina's brother Tommy (Billy Halop), who's in her custody, is picking up on the evil ways of Martin, aka Johnson (“Where does he learn about knives and—”), while the rich kid Philip is being smartly groomed (“Ça va?” ¶“Oui.”) under his influential father's guidance.

social welfare policy Gilder has it that “The principal reason for the failure of male socialization in the ghetto is the break­down of the male role as provider and the prevalence of the male as stud” (114). The solution in terms of monetary policy and as suggested in this movie would be wealth not so stratified with abundance at the top and lack down below. The working women in this movie need jobs available to women. (Hugh 'Baby Face': [in disgust, finding out what Francey's profession is] “Why didn't you get a job?” ¶Francey: “They don't grow on trees.”) And once they do get such women's work, they need at least a bare minimum wage for survival. The men for their part need affluent work to enable them to be providers, to achieve a responsible manhood that way rather than through a gang, sex & violence, and then to be good role models for and influences on their sons. The movie fits right in with Gilder's remedy for society.


There is a Bible on display in Drina's apartment, for her brother to read, as well. Aside from the usual father's admonition against crime, of Prov. 1:10-19, “Dead End” offers applications of a few other ones in particular. (Prov. 22:1) “A GOOD name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.” “Baby Face” sported some fancy duds and accoutrements, but he had to have his face fixed and name changed to avoid the cops. Dave, how­ever, was able to keep his good looks and good name.

(Prov. 22:2) “The rich and poor meet together: the LORD is the maker of them all.” It was not uncommon in the 1930s for the dwellings of the rich to abut the slums of the poor in the city. The two classes pass each other on the street.

(Prov. 22:3) “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished.” “Baby Face” stayed on longer than was healthy for him. Tommy, how­ever, tries to rectify his difficulty with the law.

(Prov. 22:4) “By humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, and honour, and life.” Dave is a humble God-fearing man whose life is the better for it.

(Prov. 22:5) “Thorns and snares are in the way of the froward: he that doth keep his soul shall be far from them.” Philip keeps his nose clean and avoids all the pesky troubles the Dead End Kids have.

(Prov. 22:6) “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Dave wanted to be an architect from an early age and renovate the slums. Now he still pursues that goal.

(Prov. 22:7) “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” The opening scene is of a policeman telling a sleeping tramp, “Come on, move along. On your way.” The police are there to do the bidding of the rich.

Production Values

This B&W picture, “Dead End” (1937) was directed by William Wyler. Its screen­play was written by Lillian Hellman, based upon the play by Sidney Kingsley. Kingsley's play had a successful Broad­way run of 687 performances during the 1935–1937 seasons; it was more raw than the censors allowed it in a movie. It starred Sylvia Sidney, Joel McCrae, Humphrey Bogart, Wendy Barrie, Claire Trevor, Allan Jenkins, and Marjorie Main (Ma Kettle)—Ward Bond had a small role, too. Consummate acting and impeccable directing kept the plot moving to succeed with the static play material. Bogart's performance did not suffer any from inexperience at this early juncture in his career. The “Dead End Kids”, mostly imported from New York, really shone and secured repeated roles, some of them, for many years.

The censors, of course, tamed “Dead End” from the theater version to approve it for film showing. There was no rating system per se in 1937, but for reference it's rated in the United Kingdom: PG (TV rating.) The whole film was shot on sound stages in Holly­wood. The cinema­tography was impressive using deep focus and long takes. We hear source music only, “Boo-Hoo” by Carmen Lombardo & John Jacob Loeb, lyrics by Edward Heyman, played at the upstairs party and sung by Huntz Hall down in the street.

Review Conclusion w/ Consumer Recommendation

Here's a movie that can help the youth make life decisions. It depicts the temptations they'll be faced with and the out­comes of various courses they may take. This isn't, to be sure, the only movie to do this, but some­how its mood is penetrating. It's well formulated, and even though it started out as a play, it succeeds admirably here as a movie.

As an historical side note, the seamstress Drina was soldiering on after wearing holes in her shoes walking a picket line. Compare "tired" seamstress Rosa Parks's complaint about there being not enough seats on the bus.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Video Occasion: Good for Family Groups. Special effects: Well done special effects. Suitability for children: Suitable for children with guidance. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Five stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quotations from the King james Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Gilder, George F. Sexual Suicide. New York: Quadrangle, 1973. Print.