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Monday, August 24, 2015

The Dead End Kids Do Reform Scool

Interesting Wrap-Up Scene That Did Not Appear in Final Prints

Crime School (1938) Is Socko For The Strand

For most movies anyway, it was New York's audience that had to be pleased, being point from which word-of-mouth and trade ads flowed. Obscure as it seems in hindsight, Crime School made big Gotham noise when new, its three-week Strand stand a history-maker for this modest B done by Warners at $222K negative cost. The Dead End Kids were fresh produce, Crime School a follow-up to previous year's Goldwyn hit that gave the teen team their name. Fun aspects of hooliganism would be sifted henceforth from social commentary woven by playwright Sidney Kingsley and Dead End director William Wyler for the '37 release, and I wonder if either realized it was boys on a loose who'd sustain for decades (and counting) after heavy stance of Dead End was forgot. Warners had sense to know where value lay in their misbehaving ensemble, but would a public beyond rowdy Strand-goers appreciate them as much?

Dead-Enders were distinctly urban to start, born of the streets familiar to city-dwellers who'd make up bulk of their following. Crime School was perhaps a surprise in terms of NYC reception, not because they liked it, but because of how much they liked it. Warners had figured Crime School for a one-off, and so let contracts lapse for some of the kids, advantage seized by Universal, who'd hire now-idle membership to do Little Tough Guy, a quick trade on interest generated by Crime School, and cause for WB to cinch up the ensemble and not let fish slip the net till Dead End currency was wrung dry. That wouldn't take long as things worked out, but what boon these boys were to companies that used them henceforth: Universal again, for a string of B's, most sadly MIA at present, at least on watchable terms, and then immortality that was The Bowery Boys, a Monogram, then Allied Artists, gift to keep on giving via WB Archive DVD sets and now HD stream-and-broadcast at Warner Instant and TCM.

Crime School was produced by Bryan Foy, WB's whirling dervish of a cut-rater, but one to be reckoned with for oft-time he delivered sleepers that could play "A" dates despite "B" trapping. Crime School shaped early as something special. In fact, it was ordered back into production for punch-up of a finish after execs, impressed with rushes, smelt potential for a breakout. Fact that it was night-shoots indicates time/expense WB was willing to bear as Crime School got ticked up a notch. Foy was buoyed enough to contact chums in exhibition, these numbering hundreds, telling each to be on lookout for sock attraction that was Crime School. Warners made trade hay of the Strand smash, that theatre their NYC flagship and testing pond for much of product. Cagney had made his bones there, no more loyal following was elsewhere for this dynamic player. To team Jim with the Dead End Kids for Angels With Dirty Faces was mere common sense in light of what his previous stuff and Crime School did in NY and other urban centers.

Crime School is object of Greenbriar interest thanks to HD unspool at TCM. What I note from this first view in years is how good Dead Enders comport themselves both comedy and serious-wise. Billy Halop strikes me as lots better actor than he got credit for. Grown-ups have mostly nuisance value, even Humphrey Bogart as do-gooder reformist at the boy's asylum to which the Kids are sent, his romance with Gale Page strictly warm milk and no way precursor to Bogie who'd later emerge. Him taking two reels to Crime School-arrive is no loss either, but here's the thing ... it's near a most noteworthy pic Bogart was associated with since The Petrified Forest, which shows how poor his lot had been over a past couple years. And did Bogart notice how close his fortunes were linked to the Dead End Kids from 1937 through a next season? Three sharing marquees with the boys, Dead End, Crime School, and Angels With Dirty Faces, raised specter of continued teaming. In fact, Warners floated trade talk that Bogart would be back with the kids for a follow-up to Crime School. Rescue for HB may have come for failure of the film to stand up in the sticks, where Crime School fell down notably before rural folk. Final tally was still a wow, however ... $1.4 in worldwide rentals and $758K profit, which was more than most Warner A's got that year.

Crime School touched on social issues but lightly, and in strictly melodramatic terms, but wouldn't escape notice of special interests. Were there New York reformatories (Crime School's implied setting) that starved boys and whipped them with a cat o' nine tails? The film suggested yes, but lit-up NY penologists put Crime School on the pan for giving "distorted impression of correctional methods and treatments of reformatory inmates." Such abuses simply never took place, said officials, "except in the chain gangs of the south," which everyone recalled WB exploiting back in 1933. Coin-of-realm endorsement came from the Boys Scouts of America, whose leadership sent letters to countrywide Scoutmasters urging them to see and recommend Crime School to membership. Hit status of the pic, plus Bogart's risen star, led to WWII reissue for Crime School, above ad a sampling of play-off as Cleveland support for "Idol Of The Air Lanes" Jan Garber and His Orchestra.


Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Warners actually tried to change the franchise name to "The Crime School Kids." The studios certainly were proprietary about their brand names: Universal created the Little Tough Guys as a rival team, with not one Dead Ender in the bunch (although David Gorcey was the next-best thing, having played on the stage Dead End).

It wasn't until Warners let four of the Dead End Kids go (Halop, Hall, Dell, and Punsley) that Universal could bill its own team as the Dead End Kids, but because Universal had already established its franchise as the Little Tough Guys, every billing for the next five years heralded "Dead End Kids and Little Tough Guys," with the latter in smaller letters. Note how cute Universal was: they couldn't say "THE Dead End Kids" because they didn't have the entire troupe. They had some Dead End Kids and some Little Tough Guys, hence the new billing.

I gotta hand it to Warners for cashing in on the troubled youth cycle of the mid-'40s (DELINQUENT DAUGHTERS, YOUTH RUNS WILD, WHERE ARE YOUR CHILDREN?, etc.). with a reissue of CRIME SCHOOL. You couldn't GET any youth more troubled than the Dead End Kids!

9:53 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Uh-oh. C-Y K-E-N-D-A-L-L spells "trouble" for anyone.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I like how Warners tried to cash in on the Bowery Boys in that '50s ad by renaming the Kids as the Dead End Boys.

The Kids were terrific dramatic actors, as proven by Dead End.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

A retooling of pre-code Cagney effort MAYOR OF HELL. By coincidence, while researching something else, I ran across negative feedback in the Motion Picture Herald from small town exhibitors on that original 1933 release. Could that have been a similar dynamic... a picture that was a big hit in the big cities but a stink bomb in the sticks?

10:16 AM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

I wanna know more about those Chinese Hillbillies from the Burma Road!

5:21 PM  
Blogger mndean said...

Interesting the wartime re-release. I suspect it was to capitalize on the large amount of juvenile delinquency being reported during WWII. Variety has loads of reports of vandalism, theft, and robbery done by teens to theaters and exhibitors from that time.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

It is amazing how slimy Leo Gorcey is in this. I wanted to punch his lights out. Great acting from vastly underrated bunch of guys.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

Was there any other comedy series that had such a "serious" start? Remember DEAD END being slotted into a "Bowery Boys" week on local TV.....stuck out QUITE a bit...

3:14 PM  
Blogger Paul Castiglia said...

How apropos to run across this entry now, John, as just last week we (Handshake Away Productions) were filming interviews and footage in New York City for our Dead End Kids/Little Tough Guys/East Side Kids/Bowery Boys documentary called, "Bowery Rhapsody: the Rise & Redemption of Hollywood's Original 'Brat Pack.'" ( ) We've interviewed a number of folks who grew up in the New York/Tri-State area (e.g Alec Baldwin, Pat Cooper, Adam Ferrara, Bob Greenberg, Dennis Diken, Scott Baio, Robert Forster) and to a person, whether seeing the films first (or second or third) run in theaters or on TV, these New York characters really resonated with them. And to paint a broader picture, city kids in general even if they grew up somewhere other than New York (e.g. Lyle Kessler, Joe Mantegna, Jamie Farr) really took to the "Kids/Boys." I'd love to know if there's a way to find out the grosses of some of the main features in each of the four series, and if there's any further information on how they fared in city theaters vs. rural. I may reach out to you separately on that, John.

7:36 AM  

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