Monday, December 26, 2011

Day 250 - Dead End

Dead End (1937) directed by William Wyler

"Stop snitchin'."

I've never heard of this film before but how could you go wrong with a Bogart gangster film? Bogart actually plays more of a supporting role in this film but is pretty slick in his scenes as Baby Face Martin, a notorious criminal who has just returned to his old stomping grounds in a neighborhood of New York City. The way the city is presented in this film is interesting because it reminds me of a lot of major cities today but more pronounced. During this time developers started to build fancy apartment buildings on the waterfront for rich folks right in the middle of the slum. The contrast between rich and poor couldn't be more pronounced as the residents of the fancy apartments step down out from Mt. Olympus into the real world. It is a stark reminder of the dichotomy that exists in our society. You won't really see this anymore because the poor people will eventually be squeezed out or the rich people will flee, but in many cities all you need to do is walk a couple blocks or take one subway stop over and you could go from a quiet upscale neighborhood and arrive in the ghettos.

In Dead End, the focus is on a young gang of kids who are well on their way to becoming good for nothing criminals. They are led by Tommy, a troubled youth who if movies have taught me anything is really a good kid at heart but lacks direction (unless you are from the City of God of course). There are a multitude of supporting characters in this film, including Tommy's sister Drina who looks after him, Dave, an honest but poor man and Baby Face Martin back in town to catch up on old times.

The performances are strong and watching a younger Bogart do his thing is pretty cool. The story has a surprising amount of depth to it as it deals with the issues of class and wealth, the troubled youth, Baby Face Martin's side story and elements of romance.

I really like how these old small neighborhoods look. There is a level of intimacy you get from this setting as opposed to a bigger picture. New York may be all of the lights, but it is also the corner where kids hang out and guys try to make an honest buck. It's no surprise that this film is an adaptation of a Broadway play; it is basically the same set throughout the film which goes to show that you don't need elaborate set pieces and exotic locations to tell a good story.

Grade: B+

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