There is nothing quite like watching the Warner Brothers BIG 3 acting tough (Eddie, Bogie and Jimmy-sorry George) and this time out we get James Cagney and the Dead End Kids before there was a Dead End Kids gang. From Warner’s workhorse Archie Mayo comes this story of juvenile delinquents led by 16 year old Frankie Darro and his pals getting sent “upriver” to the State Reformatory. Corruption rules with a cruel and abusive Warden until tough guy Jimmy Cagney arrives on the scene to take over while answering the pleas of the attractive reformatory nurse Madge Evans for better living conditions for the boys. It becomes a bit of a Boy’s Town script for a while till Cagney gets involved in a subplot I am still trying to figure out kills familiar face Harold Huber by accident during a scuffle while defending himself. With Cagney taking it “on the lamb” the previous regime takes over the reformatory and it quickly deteriorates to it’s previous state before Cagney’s arrival. From there the film turns nasty with a couple deaths and one quite gruesome for it’s day forcing Cagney to come out of hiding and hopefully return the detention center to it’s Boy’s Town ways.
Warner Brothers loved to film juvenile delinquent stories ripped out of newspaper headlines and would recycle this story more than once including the 1938 Humphrey Bogart take on the material Crime School with the real Dead End Kids led by Leo Gorcey and Billy Halop. As this film is really a time capsule it is worth noting that there are a couple of scenes that for today’s audiences would be racially unacceptable, perhaps less so at the time. For this effort we really needed a straight forward script with no subplots and a lot more of Cagney acting tough. See here yah mug, a little Cagney is better than none at all got it?