Monday, August 8, 2022

Sylvia Sidney and Joel McCrea star in “Dead End”

Dead End (1937) is a crime melodrama directed by William Wyler and starring Sylvia Sidney and Joel McCrea. The supporting cast includes Humphrey Bogart, Wendy Barie, Claire Trevor, and Allen Jenkins. The screenplay was written by Lillian Hellman, and based on the play Dead End (1935) by Sidney Kingsley. The cinematography was by Greg Toland (Citizen Kane, Wuthering Heights, The Best Years of Our Lives) and the music was by Alfred Newman.

Tommy Gordon (Billy Halop) is the leader of a gang of poor kids on their way to being more than petty criminals, is being raised by his older sister Drina (Sydney). Drina works hard to provide for Tommy and to keep him from the criminal element that he seems to admire.

Mobster Hugh “Baby Face” Martin (Bogart) returns to the neighborhood to visit his mother and girlfriend (Trevor), causing commotion and excitement among the young gang members. Dave Connell (McCrea) recognized Martin who was raised on the same street as he, warns him to stay away. Martin ignores Dave.

Dave is a trained architect, but hasn’t been able to gain employment in his chosen field, works odd jobs to make ends meet. He is involved with a rich debutante Kay Burton (Barrie). The relationship is doomed due to the fact that Dave is poor and Kay is used to a life of comfort and ease. Eventually, Dave finds himself drawn to Drina, someone he has known from his childhood.

Will Dave, Drina, and Tommy escape the dead end of their current existence?

Joel McCrea, Sylvia Sidney, and Billy Halop

William Wyler (1902 - 1981) was an American (born in Mulhouse, Alsace, then part of Germany) film director and producer. He won the Academy Award for Best Direction three times: Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Ben-Hur (1959). Wyler was nominated 12 times for Best Director, an Academy record. Wyler started working in the movie business during the silent era, eventually making a name for himself as a director in the early 1930s. He would go on to direct Wuthering Heights (1939), The Westerner (1940), and The Little Foxes (1941). Actress Bette Davis received three Oscar nominations under Wyler’s direction, winning her second Oscar for her performance in Jezebel (1938). Other popular films directed by Wyler include The Heiress (1949), Roman Holiday (1954), Friendly Persuasion (1956), The Big Country (1958), and Funny Girl 1968).

Sylvia Sydney (1910 – 1999) was an American stage and film actress. Sydney was a major movie star during the depression with starring roles in An American Tragedy (1931), Fury (1936), Dead End (1937). In 1936, she starred in The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, an early three-strip Technicolor film. When Sydney made Sabotage, she was the highest-paid actress in movies, earning $10,000 per week. She made a total of $80,000 for that film. Later in her career, she appeared in supporting roles in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (1973), Beetlejuice (1998), Used People (1992), and Mars Attacks! (1996) which was her final film role.

Joel McCrea (1905 – 1990) was an American movie star who appeared in over 100 films. During his almost-five-decades career, McCrea worked with some of the top directors in Hollywood including Alfred Hitchcock (Foreign Correspondent 1940), Preston Sturges (Sullivan’s Travels 1941, The Palm Beach Story 1942), and George Stevens (The More the Merrier 1943). McCrea worked opposite some of the top leading actresses of the day including Miriam Hopkins, Irene Dunne, Veronica Lake, Claudette Colbert, and Barbara Stanwyck with whom he made six films. He was the first actor to play Dr. Kildare in the film Internes Can’t Take Money (1937) costarring Stanwyck. McCrea married actress Frances Dee in 1933. The two were married until McCrea’s death in 1990.

Joel McCrea, Allan Jenkins, and Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart (1899 – 1957) was an American film and stage actor. He is one of the most famous and popular movie stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Nicknamed Bogie, the actor toiled in supporting roles in both A and B pictures for a decade before his breakout role as Roy Earle in High Sierra (1941). Many more film roles followed including The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), Key Largo (1948), and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). His career continued with good roles in films like In a Lonely Place (1950), The Caine Mutiny (1954), and Sabrina (1954) co-starring William Holden and Audrey Hepburn. Bogart died from cancer in 1957.

To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.

To join the discussion on August 15, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation with a link to join the discussion on Zoom.

Dead End trivia
  • The was the first appearance of The Dead End Kids who went on to make movies under various names until 1958.
  • Sylvia Sydney was borrowed from Walter Wanger and Humphrey Bogart was borrowed from Warner Bros. for their roles.
  • The set for Dead End was one of the most elaborate and realistic sets ever created.
  • Samuel Goldwyn supposedly said of the Dead End set, "Why do directors always want these slums to be so dirty? Clean it up!" Director Wyler convinced Goldwyn that most slums weren't clean. 

Discussion questions
  1. The movie was based on a very successful stage play. Does the film feel like a filmed stage play?
  2. Sylvia Sidney was a huge star when the film was released. What did you think of her performance as Drina?
  3. Bogart was still playing gangsters and second leads at this point in his career. Was he convincing as mobster Hugh "Baby Face" Martin?
  4. This film was released at the height of the depression. What do you think audiences thought about when the film premiered?
  5. Claire Trevor was barely on screen for five minutes but she was still nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Do you think she deserved the nomination?

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