Dead End (1937 film)

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Dead End
Theatrical release poster
Directed by William Wyler
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn
Written by Sidney Kingsley (play)
Lillian Hellman (screenplay)
Starring Sylvia Sidney
Joel McCrea
Humphrey Bogart
Wendy Barrie
Claire Trevor
Allen Jenkins
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography Gregg Toland
Edited by Daniel Mandell
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • August 27, 1937 (1937-08-27) (U.S.)
Running time
93 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $900,000 (est)

Dead End is a 1937 crime drama film. It is an adaptation of the Sidney Kingsley 1935 Broadway play of the same name. It stars Humphrey Bogart, Joel McCrea, and Sylvia Sidney. It is notable as being the first film appearance of the Dead End Kids.


In the filthy slums of New York, wealthy people have built luxury apartments there because of the view of the picturesque East River. While they live in opulence, the destitute and dirt poor live nearby in crowded, filthy tenements.

At the end of the street is a dock on the East River; to the left are the luxury apartments and to the right are the slums. The Dead End Kids, led by Tommy Gordon (Billy Halop), are a petty gang of street urchins who are already well onto a path to a life of crime. Members of the gang besides Tommy include, Dippy (Huntz Hall), Angel (Bobby Jordan), Spit (Leo Gorcey), T.B. (Gabriel Dell), and Milty (Bernard Punsly), the new kid on the block in search of friends. Spit is a bit malicious with a cruel streak and initially bullies the newcomer and takes his pocket change. However, Tommy eventually lets Milty join the gang and turns out to be both a loyal and generous friend.

Tommy's sister, Drina (Sylvia Sidney), dreams of marrying some dashing, rich stranger who will save her and Tommy from this miserable life of poverty and help prevent Tommy from growing up to be a mobster like Baby Face Martin (Humphrey Bogart), who has returned to the neighborhood to visit his mother and old girlfriend. Drina's childhood friend, Dave Connell (Joel McCrea), is an unemployed architect who currently works odd jobs. He is having an affair with a rich man's mistress, Kay Burton (Wendy Barrie). Although Dave and Kay love each other, they know they can't be together because Dave cannot provide Kay with the kind of lifestyle she desires.

Meanwhile, the kids rough up a rich kid (Charles Peck) who lives in the apartments. When the boy's father tries to intervene, Tommy winds up stabbing him in the arm. He escapes the police and goes into hiding.

Martin, meanwhile, is rejected by his mother (Marjorie Main) and repulsed by his ex-girlfriend, Francie (Claire Trevor), who is now a prostitute and "sick" (a coded reference to her suffering late term stages of syphilis). Despondent over the failed visit, he decides to kidnap the rich child for ransom to make the trip back worthwhile. Dave tracks Martin down and kills him after a struggle. When the police arrive, a crowd gathers, including Spit, who is recognized as being a member of the gang that attacked the rich kid's father. He exonerates himself by informing the police that it was Tommy who stabbed the man. Tommy hears of Spit's betrayal and tries to give him the mark of the "squealer", which is a knife wound across the cheek. Before he can do so, Dave apprehends him and convinces him to turn himself in. He agrees to use his reward money from Martin's slaying to pay for Tommy's defense.


Dead End was filmed from May 3 through July 8, 1937.

Counterparts in real life[edit]

The stage directions to the play indicate that Rockefeller Center can be seen in the distance, which would place the location of the pier at approximately 50th Street in Manhattan. In the movie, the location is made more definite as 53rd Street, adjoining a luxury building that is obviously the River House, which was and is at that location.

The actual Dead End was the corner of East 53rd Street and the East River. Sutton Place South runs north from East 53rd Street at that corner. The producers of the play and movie made a painstaking effort to recreate that very area in the stage scenery. The River House at the end of East 53rd Street closely resembles the Griswalds' house in the play and movie. One can find traces of some of the locales in Dead End in that area, however, the pier and tenements are gone and the Dead End is now part of Sutton Place Park and Exit 11 of FDR Drive.[citation needed]

The official name of the "Dead End" Kids is on the brick wall in chalk behind the boys as they play cards.This wall and the inscription is shown in several scenes throughout the film. The graffiti reads: East 53rd Place Gang Members Only. Writing in the New York Times, Carter B. Horsley said of the River House: "Erected in 1931 when its area still teemed with tenements, it was mocked in the famous and popular 1936 movie, 'Dead End' that was Lillian Hellman's adaptation of Sidney Kingsley's play." [1]


The Dead End Kids[edit]

Additional cast[edit]

Awards and honors[edit]

It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Art Direction (Richard Day), Academy Award for Best Cinematography (Gregg Toland) and Best Supporting Actress (Claire Trevor).[1]

The film was also nominated for AFI's Top 10 Gangster Films list.[2]

DVD release[edit]

The Film was released on VHS and Beta in 1985 by Embassy Home Entertainment. The film was released on DVD on March 8, 2005 by MGM.


  1. ^ "NY Times: Dead End". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-09. 
  2. ^ AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot

External links[edit]