Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Dead End is a very famous 1937 movie directed by William Wyler and starring Sylvia Sidney, Joel McCrea, Humphrey Bogart, and Wendy Barrie. Originally a play on Broadway, it was made into a movie almost immediately. The film is about a poor girl (Sidney) who is engaged to a poor architect (McCrea). They live in the "Dead End", a slum on the East River in New York City. A major street defines the southern end of the Dead End, and on the south side of that street are large, wealthy mansions behind high gated walls. Another girl (Barrie) used to be the girlfriend of gangster-on-the-run Bogart, who is rumored to be returning to the neighborhood before he heads for Miami and fresher pastures. The Dead End is home to a gang of kids, about 15 in numbers, who basically live in rags, have little to eat, and don't attend school. They mostly play on the dock and swim in the sewage-infested river. The wealthy boy who lives across the main drag envies the Dead End Kids, and wants to join their "play". When he escapes his butler/governor and joins up with the street kids, the Dead End Kids sexually molest and physically abuse him. The boy is then severely injured when Bogart comes to town and engages in a shoot-out with the cops. The boy's grandfather blames the Dead End Kids for his grandson's shooting, and the cops begin to chase the innocent (?) boys. One of them dies after he falls from a rooftop while trying to escape the police. There's more, but why give away the ending?

The Dead End had a major impact on American social policy. New Yorkers were so horrified by the depiction of actual conditions of destitution and immorality that large amounts of money began pouring into schools, public housing, soup kitchens, and playgrounds. When Eleanor Roosevelt saw the film, she told her husband -- President Franklin D. Roosevelt -- and the president sought and won passage of the National Housing Act of 1934. For the first time, the U.S. federal government gave money to states and localities to build acceptable housing for the poor.

Sadly, the Dead End Kids didn't end up so well.

The Dead End Kids went from being representatives of the poor, outcast, and powerless desperate to get a meal and a decent home....

...to comic relief in B-movies as The Bowery Boys. Leo Gorcey was something like 43 years old when he stopped playing a "kid".

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