The parallels to the same year's "Angels With Dirty Faces" is unmistakable, right down to the character of Father Jerry, portrayed in this picture by Paul Kelly. I'm a bit curious about the opening scene in which the street sign marking 35th Street and 11th Avenue also states Hell's Kitchen; I wonder if that was really the case. Or if it's the case today, I'll check the next time I'm in the City.
This was actually a fairly compelling gangster/crime drama, centering on five friends who palled together as the Death Avenue Cowboys. Growing up on different sides of the law, they collide in a series of events triggered by Marty Malone's (Victor McLaglen) insistence on collecting a gambling debt. Events quickly spiral out of control when one of the O'Mara Brothers suspects foul play in the death of a gambler connected to Malone. Mike O'Mara (William Gargan) learns the truth behind his boyhood friend's connection to brother Joe's (John Gallaudet) death, culminating in dire consequences for each of the principals. The female member of the 'Cowboys' is played by Beatrice Roberts, the adult Helen McCoy.
I've seen Victor McLaglen in a few leading roles (1937's "Sea Devils" comes immediately to mind), and this might be his best effort as a headliner. Actually, he pretty much carries the picture, with William Gargan in a decent supporting role as policeman Mike O'Mara, attempting to get to the bottom of Joe's death. McLaglen's death scene doesn't evoke the same tear jerk response that Cagney's did in 'Angels', but it's still effective within the confines of his former childhood gang.
For followers of the Little Rascals/Our Gang flicks, the opening scene will be reminiscent, but with a little harder edge, as Death Avenue Cowboys might suggest. The surprise in the film credits, for me at least, was seeing Wild Bill Elliott listed as gambler Brewster who welshed on his debt with Malone. The other puzzler involved the gang roster engraved in the wooden plaque at the beginning of the story; why was Marty Malone, the leader of the 'Cowboys' and the oldest member, listed last?
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