7 November 2002 | pzanardo
Great visual beauties, direction, acting. A so-and-so story.
The main credit of "Dead End" lies in the stunning visual beauties. The studio reproduction of a New York slum is really magnificent, worth of other major achievements of the same kind, like, say, the set of "Rear Window". A true joy for the eyes. The work of the camera and William Wyler's direction are outstanding, as well. And, of course, the job of the cast is great. Bogart, still in the role of the villain, McCrea and Sylvia Sidney are excellent, and save their rather straightforward characters and lines. In my opinion, the best one is Claire Trevor, in the small part of the lost girl. I normally dislike kids on the screen, but I must concede that here they give great performances, playing the gang of street-boys.
The story is conventional, with a noble message, but few and predictable twists. The script is often clumsy and preachy. Luckily enough, the director gives a quick pace to the narration and inserts a number of humoristic touches. There's a main flaw in the plot: I think that, even in the States of the 1930s, a common citizen couldn't freely shoot a gangster.
Anyway, I've found in the screen-play an interesting and modern theme, namely the psychological ambiguity of some characters, whom even the all-knowing viewer cannot fully understand. For instance, Claire Trevor is apparently the cliche disgraced girl, the innocent victim of poverty, lack of opportunities, social injustice. To end as a prostitute is her unavoidable doom... But, when her former boy-friend Bogie gives some money to help her, she makes the horribly vulgar request of "twenty more bucks"... with a grimace worth of a hardened prostitute (great stuff by Trevor!). So we see that, after all, perhaps that girl is not so innocent as she pretends to be... And what about Drina's brother, the leader of the street-boys? The audience is perfectly aware that, in spite of his whining, weeping self-apologies (when he's in dire straits), the boy is a REAL criminal. We see that he deliberately harms people, steals, brutally thrashes the rich kid, wants to slash his gang-mate. And he just mocks his affectionate sister and his friend McCrea when, in tears, he cries that he's good, that he didn't intend to harm, and all that. So, are we supposed to feel sympathy for this hideous boy? Interesting ambiguity, which creates a fine artistic effect... perhaps beyond the actual intentions of the writer Lillian Hellman.
All in all, we may forgive the defects of the movie. it is worth seeing "Dead End", enjoying the beauty of the set and the work of director and actors.