Slice-of-life melodrama, 1937 style, in which good little slum girl Sylvia Sidney tries to prevent her brother (Billy Halop) from emulating gangster Humphrey Bogart or those good-for-nothing Dead End Kids down by the docks. Bogey steals the show as the gangster who passes through town to see his mother and former girlfriend, only to discover that he can't go home again. Claire Trevor received a supporting-actress nomination for her one-scene role as Bogart's ex-flame, now a drug-addicted prostitute dying of venereal disease. Her scene with Bogart, in which more is conveyed by their silence than their words, is the most powerful and memorable in the film. - JL
A successful Broadway play probing the tenement life of east side New York, DEAD END was practically custom-made to be adapted at Warner Brothers as one of their typical "social problem" dramas. But Sam Goldwyn got there first. He must have understood that the material needed a Warners touch, because he imported none other than Humphrey Bogart to star as the film's gangster. Dealing with a character a few shades deeper than the typical low-rent thug he would normally play at Warners, Bogart delivered one of his best performances to date. Claire Trevor and Allen Jenkins, among others, help complete the quasi-Warners feel, although the elaborate tenement sets are pure Goldwyn.
Even after his revealing work in this Goldwyn film, it took Warners several more years to realize Bogart could be a star. Not so for the Dead End Kids, most of whom came directly from the stage. They would go on to be featured in several Warner Brothers dramas, most notably ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, and star in their own series of cheap comedies for Universal (as The Little Tough Guys) and Monogram (as The East Side Kids and The Bowery Boys). It was a reign of lowbrow cinematic terror that would last until 1958. - JB