On a dead end block in New York, next to the river, a gang of boys gather and their antics are known all over the neighborhood. Overlooking their usual hangout is a new apartment complex full of rich people. The main entrance to their building is under construction, so all the residence must pass by the boys as they come and go. This gives the boys fuel and something to laugh at. When notorious gangster ‘Baby Face’ Martin (Humphrey Bogart) returns to the block, his childhood home, he observes the boys and gives them a few of his old tricks.
Martin’s old friend, Dave (Joel McCrea) sees that he’s just a bad influence on the boys, the neighborhood doesn’t need to produce anymore gangsters. Dave is an intelligent man, went to college and studied architecture, but he can’t find any work. So he stays around his home, helping out the good people in the neighborhood and tries to make the block look nice now that they’ve got rich neighbors.
The boys take their antics too far when they beat up a rich boy from the new building. They trick him into being accepted by them, we don’t see the beating, but the kid who was so nicely dressed runs back home with his clothes in shreds, his pocket watch stolen and one boy wearing his nice white suit coat like a joke. The rich boy’s father won’t have any of it and grabs one boy, Tommy (Billy Halop) by the arm, nearly breaking it. In an effort to get his arm free, Tommy pulls a pocket knife and slices the father’s hand. Well that’s too much for the father, so he calls an officer, who wants to find Tommy and take him away to reform school, the same fate that led Martin to life as an outlaw.
Humphrey Bogart is always such a joy to watch, and Dead End proves no different. For a wanted man, Martin is pretty smart; before he decided to visit back home he had some sort of surgery on his face so he couldn’t be recognized, but no matter what he’s tried, he can’t change his fingerprints. He returns home to see his mother and hopefully get back together with his childhood sweetheart. When neither prospect go over well he concocts a plan to make his visit a little fruitful.
Problem is, Dave has taken it upon himself to watch over the neighborhood and is willing to take justice into his own hands, even against his old boyhood pal.
This is a wonderful precautionary tale mixing city boyhood antics in with a gangster twist. I found myself getting very involved with the story as well with the characters. I would recommend this for all ages, since the boys biggest bad word is “bologna” and there isn’t much violence until the climax. Anyone who enjoys Bogart, McCrea or stories of inner city kids would enjoy this film.
“The famous ‘Baby Face’ Martin used to live on this block. He wasn’t such a bad kid either at first. He was smart and brave and decent… at first.”