Saturday, July 25, 2020

Movie Reviews: Each Dawn I Die

Each Dawn I Die
directed by William Keighley
This was a 1939 crime movie that shades over into film noir territory. It featured superstars James Cagney and George Raft. 

Raft was the boyhood friend of notorious mob boss and hitman Bugsy Siegel. Raft had not only grown up around gangsters but also allegedly had spent some time on the mob fringes before finding success as a dancer and actor. Even during his successful reign in Hollywood, Raft maintained some friendships (and business relationships?) with mobsters such as Siegel, Lepke Buchalter (head of Murder Inc), and Mickey Cohen, among others. So Raft's work here as an imprisoned mobster certainly seemed to have the whiff of realism. Raft is cool, debonair and charismatic. 

There weren't many actors who could hold their own onscreen with the lightning in a bottle force that was Cagney but Raft was certainly such a man. And he did it seemingly without effort. Where Cagney is boom-zip-bam all over the place at 150 mph, Raft is laconic, behind the beat and as mentioned cool....

Many classic Hollywood movies gave or were forced to give a sunny positive depiction of police, prison guards, judges and district attorneys as selfless people who just wanted the best for everyone, even the people they reluctantly arrested, convicted or sentenced. Each Dawn I Die was having none of that malarkey. 

Some people in law enforcement are better than others but in this film plenty of them are corrupt, stupid, brutal people who are only interested in fleecing the public and humiliating or hurting those unfortunate enough to fall under their control. 

Frank Ross (James Cagney) is a muckraking reporter. He's a smart mouth who knows where the bodies are buried. Ross is investigating the corrupt district attorney Jesse Hanley (Thurston Hall). Hanley's running for governor. If Ross can get the goods on Hanley before Hanley burns evidence of dirty deals then Ross can prevent the people of the state from making a horrible mistake. There's one problem though. Hanley may be crooked but he's not stupid. 

Hanley knows Ross is watching him. Hanley has his mob friends set up Ross for a drunken driving accident that kills three people. Ross gets twenty years; Hanley gets elected governor. No one, and I do mean no one, is interested in Ross' constant protestations of innocence, accusations of conspiracy, or his shock at prison guard brutality. 

Daily becoming more depressed and more cynical, Ross does not tell the prison authorities that he thinks that a mobster serving life, Stacey (George Raft) committed or ordered a stabbing on a prison stoolie. Although he's fighting it, Ross is growing accustomed to prison rules. And as we all know, snitches get stitches.

This puts Stacey in Ross' debt. Stacey can tell that Ross, despite his hardening shell, doesn't belong in prison. Ross' friends on the outside, including his reporter girlfriend Joyce (Jane Bryan), are frantically looking for evidence that would free Ross but they haven't had luck. Stacey, despite his life sentence, is still a man of authority in the underworld. He could help. But why should he? 

Stacey has some plans. Maybe if Ross does him another favor Stacey could help. The warden (George Bancroft) can also tell that Ross isn't yet a hardened convict. But being nice isn't his job. It's his job to keep people in prison and prevent them from assaulting or killing each other.

This was a movie, that despite some excessive melodrama, was very entertaining. The viewer will actually care whether Ross gives in to depression and some dark urges and if Stacy will find some virtue in doing what's right, even if it's not in his best interest. 

The dialogue is too cool. But when you have Cagney and Raft throwing zingers at people I guess it would have to be.   
Raft: "Write a story about me when you get out." 
Cagney: "If you don't shut up you may find it in the obituary column!" 
Raft: "How tough are you babe?" 
(fight ensues)
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