Saturday, June 15, 2019

Each Dawn I Die

Each Dawn I Die (William Keighley, 1939) Edgy newspaper reporter Frank Ross (James Cagney) has a hot news lead, but it gets buried when the crooked assistant D.A. he's trying to get the goods on, knocks him cold, douses him in whiskey, and puts him behind the wheel of a car and sends it caroming down a city street, ultimately killing three innocents. Ross is convicted of vehicular manslaughter and thrown in jail, his campaign against the crooked DA (who is trying to run for governor) quashed.  

On the outside the folks in the newsroom his reporting partner (Jane Bryan) and his editor are trying to dig deep to find out how to get around the lawyers, and inside Frank tries to stay alive, getting information from fellow prisoners in the sweat-shops, and even saving the life of "Hood" Stacey (George Raft), who, to repay the debt, cooks up a hair-brain scheme to find  who framed Ross. When another inmate is killed, Ross names Stacey, in order for the gangster to be tried, and make it easier for him to escape.

Not very likely. Stacey does escape, however, but reneges on his plan, making one more set-back for Ross, who is slowly going crazy with his prison-term, and the impossibility of finding out who's responsible while stuck behind bars.
No, it's not very credible, but the points of interest in the story are Cagney, who pushes the boundaries of what "good guy" behavior can entail and Raft, who's smooth, wry, likable, and utterly corrupt. This makes him completely different from the crooked DA who isn't witty, isn't smooth, and is dully cruel, but is also utterly corrupt. So, the difference between good and evil (in its shades of gray) in the audience's affection is that "bad" must also be personally bad, and incapable of entertaining us. If you can entertain us, obviously you can't be that bad a guy, even capable of reforming. But, what separates this from other Warner Bros. efforts of the period is that the authorities, although personifications of fear and threat, are also completely fallible and downright evil. The "good guys" are the "bad guys" and that's something a little different in a post-"Code" gangster movie.

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