“DEAD END” and THE EAST END KIDS

Allen Jenkins

 

In ”Dead End “ (1937), Allen Jenkins as ‘Hunk’, delivers  a classic line to his boss ‘Baby Face Martin’ (Humphrey Bogart):

“We all make mistakes,Boss. That’s why they put the rubber on the  ends of pencils.”

Allen Jenkins (1900- 1974), a Warners contract player,  made 158 films according to IMDB. A scene-stealer of the highest order, likeable, down to earth , a gruff  Brooklynese accent.  Usually a henchman, with names like Mugsy – Lefty – Spudsy -Pinky – Gyp – Dodo – Fishcake – Okay.

Allen was in the original stage production of THE FRONT PAGE in 1928. ( and in a tribute to him, Billy Wilder had Allen in his 1974 version of The Front Page. It was Allen’s  last appearance.)

His voice was perfect for ‘Officer Dibble’ in “Top Cat.”

 

“DEAD END” has quite a history. A Broadway hit play which ran for nearly two years. ( In the cast, making his Broadway debut,  was Dan Duryea as a G-Man., also Marjorie Main.)

Sam Goldwyn bought the film rights and hired William Wyler  to direct.

 

The title says it all. A rundown neighbourhood in New York’s lower east side next to the East river.Alongside the slums are the ritzy apartments of the well-to-do who want a river view.

There  is even a sign at the water’s edge that literally  says DEAD END.

Humphrey Bogart  is ‘Baby Face Martin’, a killer the police are on the look out for. He has had plastic surgery to change his appearance. He’s taking a chance , returning to his old neighbourhood to see his mother and his old girlfriend.

 

The boys from the Broadway cast:

Gabriel Dell, Leo Gorcey, Billy Halop, Bernard Punsly.

Front row: Bobby Jordan, Huntz Hall.

These boys are the stars of the film for me, so natural and comfortable with each other. They are so real. They support each other in the environment they live in  where they can’t rely on anyone but themselves.
Although never mentioned, I presume school is out. It’s a hot summer’s day and the action takes place over a 24 hour period.

 

  • The boy’s leader is Billy Halop whose sister is played by Sylvia Sidney who worries about her brother being in a  gang and wants to take him out of the neighbourhood. She’s a factory worker who is on strike.

 

Having decided not to film on location in New York, Sam Goldwyn had Richard Day design a massive set based on the stage set by Norman Bel Geddes.

To the left of this photo is the rear entrance to the apartment building where the rich folk live.

Of course an indoors studio set allows the director to be in complete control. Unfortunately it has never really been possible to convey the feeling of being outdoors .  It also adds to the claustrophobic stage bound appearance , but is a terrific set.

 

William Wyler, seated bottom right, looks up at the action taking place.

 

Another shot showing the pier where the boys dive in for a swim.

 

Ward Bond in a small role as the doorman for the swanky apartment block. He’s at the service entrance which the tenants are being forced to use at the moment, causing close interaction between rich and poor which wouldn’t normally happen. 

 

  • Sylvia Sidney as ‘Drina’ who worries about her brother ‘Tommy’ and  longs to take him away.

 

Joel McCrea, Wendy Barrie.

Joel McCrea  as ‘Dave’ has tried to better himself  and has qualified as an architect , but is looking  for work. It doesn’t help that the girl he likes (Wendy Barrie) is a rich man’s mistress who lives in the luxury apartments.

(Can’t imagine how they met).

 

Marjorie Main, Humphrey Bogart.

Seeing Marjorie Main  , as Bogart’s mother ( though only ten years older than him) , makes you wonder whether she might have had more varied  roles in her career after this performance.
She is so good as the care-worn woman who despises her son whom she hasn’t seen for ten years. He thinks he’ll be welcomed ( though it appears he has done nothing for her).

The mobster says, “Aint you glad to see me?”

 She shocks him by slapping his face and replying ,

”That’s how glad I am – you  ain’t no son of mine.”

it’s interesting that Claire Trevor was Oscar nominated for the 5 minute scene she was in. As much as I like Claire, in this film, it’s Marjorie Main whom I remember in her brief scene.

The following year Marjorie was back on Broadway in “THE WOMEN  “, in the career defining role of ‘Lucy’, the Reno dude ranch owner. She went on to do the film version.

And her film persona was set – comedic, raucous, opinionated . Completely typecast when she was obviously capable of serious roles.

 

Marjorie Main, Humphrey Bogart.

Mrs. Martin and her son ‘Baby Face’ Martin. He’s well dressed . She’s in rags.

I understand George Raft turned down the Bogart role.

 

Claire Trevor

Claire Trevor as ‘Francey’. The ten years since ‘Baby Face’ has seen her haven’t been kind to her. She’s a prostitute ( though in 1937, it couldn’t be said out loud). But the look of horror on Bogie’s face is obvious. Their meeting doesn’t last long, he gives her some money to get rid of her.

 

 

One and only time Allen Jenkins got the same size billing as Bogart?

Funny how billing on posters change as years go by. In 1937, Sylvia Sidney was top billed.

From being third billed, Bogart’s star status means his name comes first in re-issues of the film.

 

”THE DEAD END STREET.” ( this poster isn’t even an accurate picture of Humphrey Bogart in the film – it looks like a photo from a later era.)

 

DEAD POINT.

 

Huntz Hall, Billy Halop, Bernard Punsley, Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey.

The boys became known as the Dead End Kids after the film was released.

At the film’s premiere, all spruced up.

 

And this is them in the  1950s, appearing  on a TV show hosted by Ben Alexander,

Bernard (now Dr.Punsley), Leo Gorcey, Bobby Jordan, Ben Alexander, Huntz Hall, Billy Halop.

 

A family photo: Leo Gorcey, his brother David and his father Bernard. David and Bernard were in later Bowery Boys films.

 

David Gorcey  who didn’t look much like his brother Leo, and was always in Leo’s shadow. He often used the name David Condon.  David became a clergyman.

Interchanging groups of the boys worked for Warners, Monogram  and Universal . They became the East Side Kids from 1940 to 1945.

 

 

 

In 1946, Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall formed a company with their agent and took the name “The Bowery Boys”. Leo owned 40% of the company. He produced and contributed to scripts.Bobby Jordan and Gabriel Dell were in them, plus Billy Benedict, David Gorcey.

There was a shift to slapstick  comedy. Monogram distributed the films.

Leo Gorcey quit the series  in 1956 and Stanley Clements took his place in the remaining films of the series.

Having seen more and read about Hutnz Hall, I think he deserves a lot of credit for the character he played on screen – a Chaplinesque dimwit., full of action and facial expressions.

Huntz Hall

But, like nearly all of  the fine young actors in DEAD END, Huntz couldn’t escape type casting. He and the others made a living out of the series , from the Dead End Kids to The Bowery Boys.

Huntz got one opportunity away from slapstick and that was in A WALK IN THE SUN, a wartime film made in 1945 and starring Dana Andrews. I haven’t seen it but it has a good reputation.

 

In 2018, IMDB listed a documentary in production called BOWERY RHAPSODY, THE RISE AND REDEMPTION OF HOLLYWOOD’S ORIGINAL BRAT PACK.
The producer was listed as Leo Gorcey Jr. who also wrote a 2003 biography of his father, “Me and the Dead End Kid.”

Leo Gorcey’s autobiography came out in  1967 and is now listed for sale on Amazon at £176!

I’ve just ordered “The Films of the Bowery Boys” and I look forward to reading  more about them. 

 

Leo Gorcey Jr.

 

Those 6 young men whose lives were changed forever  when Samuel Goldwyn brought them to Hollywood.

 

 

 

16 responses »

  1. I always found it interesting that Lillian Hellman wrote the script for this, near or at the height of her fame as a playwright. She also wrote the screenplay for her “The Children’s Hour” remake (also dir. by Wyler) : in my not so humble opinion perhaps one of the most grotesquely underrated and unintelligently criticized films of all time, by people who lack not only historical imagination and knowledge, but seemingly any kind of imagination and knowledge. Fay Bainter gives perhaps the performance of her career, and the whole thing is masterfully done.

    Nowadays it seems that Miss Hellman’s talents as writer have long been overshadowed by publicity instead, about her sometimes cruel practical jokes among friends.

  2. I did too. Of course the “Julia” chapter had been revealed as fiction by the time of her death (seven years after the film of it came out), stolen uncredited from a living woman she knew of but hadn’t met, let alone smuggled funds to. This kind of thing is surely a reason for Mary McCarthy’s infamous claim that “Every word Lillian Hellman writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.”
    I agree she was a great writer, though – of prose as well as plays of lasting merits.

  3. What a shame that some of the boys had personal problems in later years. Poor Bobby Jordan was an alcoholic. At least Billy Halop managed to find work in later years, especially his recurring role in All In The Family.

  4. I’d forgotten he was “Officer Dibble”.

    Of the seven films they were in together, he did manage equal billing with Bogart in two other film posters – “Swing Your Lady” and “Racket Busters”.

    Unless I’m missing something, IMDB lists him as “only” having done 111 movies and 6 shorts.

    Loved Marjorie Main in the “Ma Kettle” films, and also those of “The Kids”.

    • Main first created this role onstage. Despite being shy and soft-spoken, you’re right that “The Women” initiated her “film persona” that eventually made her a star as Ma Kettle, for which she made her own costumes and wrote. My favorite of her performances (as seen thus far) has the forgettable title of “Mrs. O’Malley and Mr. Malone”, in which she and James Whitmore are brilliantly funny, but sadly the film didn’t break even. Decades after his death, she would still consult her husband sometimes in the middle of a scene she was shooting, for advice. All waited patiently until she was done, at which time the scene resumed.

  5. Wyler was frequently interested in making an “Important Statement” with his films, and a few times, he actually pulled it off. Dead End is one of Wyler’s first masterpieces.

    There are elements of Cubism in the sharp angular visuals, the linear contrast of light and dark. Bogart & Al Jenkins walk in an alley – a workman comes towards them. They slink against the wall and into the shadows, yielding the lighted path to the honest laborer. One is reminded of the movement of rats or cockroaches. The broken angles of the buildings and the wreckage and flotsam that lies everywhere round the Dead End Kids have the same stark, broken-crockery quality of paintings like ‘Woman with a Horse’ or Cézanne’s ‘Quarry Bibémus.’

    In the Baby Face Martin role, the film makes an examination of the much later Theatre of the Absurd movement, with all of its elements of futility and despair. Bogart’s life is shown to be useless, lonely, filled with fear and desolation. He is the worst possible role model to the boys of the neighborhood. His girl is fallen into depravity; he is afraid of the law and everything that is good; even his mother detests him. His clothes are a desperate attempt to cover his own moral filth with a patina of beauty. Here indeed is an “Important Statement” about gangsters.

    Wyler (or more likely Sam Goldwyn) displays consummate casting mastery by selecting McCrea to represent The Good Man. No other actor, not excepting even Gary Cooper, has the quality of goodness to the degree that Joel McCrea did. The Cubist juxtaposition of the bronzed, fit, intelligent, honorable man (McCrea) with the cowardly, murderous, scurrying cockroach (Bogart) has never been equaled in any film I have seen. Bogart fades into the background in every scene they have together, overwhelmed by Joel’s enormous screen presence. Wyler puts Bogart on a sort of balcony above McCrea in one scene, yet even while physically below, and remaining silent, Joel completely dominates the shot. This is indeed inspired casting, wholly appropriate to the film’s “Important Statement” thesis of Good over Evil. McCrea was in full flood by this time, and the range of his repertoire is amazing. In the single year of Dead End, 1937, he created a startling series of characters – Dr. Kildare, the lover Kenneth Nolan (Woman Chases Man), the derring-do of Ramsay Mackay (Wells Fargo), and of course, our hero Dave. When one looks at McCrea’s body of work 1932-1962 his range really is quite astonishing. Bogart, of course, always had greater facility of expression, particularly his luminous eyes and the melodic grating of his voice. But Bogart never came close to McCrea’s screen presence nor his ability to excel in such a wide range of roles. Joel McCrea is quite probably the most underrated actor of the Golden Era, possibly because after about 1950 or ’54 he was more or less mailing it in at work.

    Sidney, a popular star of that time, could have been replaced with ease by any number of actresses with no loss to the character. Kay Francis, Miriam Hopkins, Joan Crawford, etc. Dead End castmate Claire Trevor would have been better in the role.

    Dead End is marred by a common failing of early Wyler films; terrible editing. It is so bad in places (for example, the diner scene with Bogart & Jenkins) that the viewer is disturbed, jarred out of the dreamlike reverie of the best movies, into merely watching a poorly cut film. But the visual ideas are so fecund and rich, the absurdities (tenements staring across a squalid street at a millionaire’s mansion, the Cassandra part played by Al Jenkins) are so stark, the story so strong, that Wyler’s ineptitude with the medium is quickly forgotten in the enchantment of his storytelling.

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