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They Made Me a Criminal (1939)

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A boxer flees believing he has comitted a murder while he was drunk.



(screen play), (from a novel by), 3 more credits »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
The 'Dead End' Kids
Detective Phelan
Gloria Dickson ...
Billy Halop ...
Bobby Jordan ...
Leo Gorcey ...
Huntz Hall ...
Gabriel Dell ...
Bernard Punsly ...
Milt (as Bernard Punsley)
Robert Gleckler ...
Doc Ward
John Ridgely ...
Barbara Pepper ...


Johnnie is a boxer. The same evening he won the world championship, he is charged for the murder of a reporter and is taken for dead. Running away from New York, he ends up in a ranch in Arizona, run by an old lady as a work farm for delinquent teenagers. He falls in love with Peggy and became the teenagers' hero. But there is that New York Detective, Phelan, that does not believe he is dead and is chasing him... An unlikely scenario, but not a so bad film. Written by Yepok

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

ranch | detective | arizona | reporter | police | See more »


YOU'D GIVE A DOG A BETTER CHANCE! (re-release print ad - all caps) See more »


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

28 January 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

I Became a Criminal  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Claude Rains at first turned down the part, feeling he would be miscast and look ridiculous as a tough New York City cop. Only after being threatened by the studio with suspension did he reluctantly accept it, but he always considered this one of his least favorite pictures. See more »


At 38minutes into the film Gloria Dickson's "Peggy" calls John Garfield's character "Johnnie" when he in fact is still under the guise & alias persona of "Jack Dorney"! She could not know that since he has not told anyone at that point of the film. See more »


Speed: She took eight gallons. That's a dollar twenty-eight.
See more »


Followed by You're Not So Tough (1940) See more »


M-O-T-H-E-R, a Word That Means the World to Me
(1915) (uncredited)
Music by Theodore Morse
Lyrics by Howard Johnson
Partially sung a cappella by Bert Roach
See more »

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User Reviews

Don't Make The Same Mistake Twice
20 December 2004 | by (brooklyn NY) – See all my reviews

***SPOILERS*** Even though the movie "They Made Me A Criminal" is nowhere as good as the later John Garfield anti-hero classics like "Body & Soul" in 1947 "Force of Evil" in 1948 and his last and very underrated "He Ran All The Way" in 1951 it's the film that defined his career from that point onward until his untimely death on May 21, 1952 at the young age of 39.

Garfiled plays the part of light Weight Champion Johnnie Bradfield and later the fugitive from the law Jack Dorney who's innocent of the murder that he's charged with, even though he's been declared officially dead. Jonnie's manager Doc Ward, Robert "Doc" Gleckler, who during a drunken victory party killed reporter Charles McGee,John Ridgely, who was going to expose to the public his fighter Johnnie Bradfield lies about him being a one women guy as well as non drinking momma's boy. Doc Gleckler smashed a bottle over McGee's head killing him as Jonnie was almost dead drunk with a number of women partying in his hotel suite.

Doc was later killed in a car crash with Johnnie's girlfriend Goldie, Ann Sheridan, but Doc burned to a crisp and with Johnnie's watch on him was mistaken for Johnnie. Told to stay dead and buried by his lawyer Malvin ,Robert Strange, who took $9,750.00 of the $10,000.00 of Johnnie's money that he had for this great piece of advice. Malvin told Johnnie to take on a new identity and call himself from now on Jack Dorney and get the hell out of the state of New York; talking about sleazy shysters. Johnnie now Jack Dorney travels the rails from New York down to Arizona ending up at the Rancho Rafferty Date Farm where most of the film takes place.

If it wasn't for John Garfield in the lead role as both Jonnie Bradfield & Jack Dorney the movie would have long been lost and forgotten. Garfield who was only 26 at the time brought the best out of everyone in the movie. Even the transported Dead End Kids, I guess we can call them The Arizona Kids here, acting were notches above what you would have expected from them and they came across as real and sensitive persons not a bunch of slap stick clowns like in almost all of their movies. All that due to being on the same stage, or filming location, with John Garfield.

"They Made Me a Criminal" is a good story that has the undercover champ acting like anything but not to draw any attention on himself and end up not only behind bars but in the electric chair. In the end Jack showed just what kind of man he is by not fighting the big fight and against all the odds dramatically winning at the last moment but by going four brutal rounds to get the money for his new found family at the date farm including his girl Peggy, Gloria Dickson, to open up a gas station with it.

Giving the European champ Gaspar Rutchek, Frank Riggi, the fight of his life and getting $2,000.00, thats $500.00 a round, for doing it Jack showed everyone who looked up to him like the "Arizona Kids" that sometimes taking a punch is far braver and more courageous then throwing one.The fact that Jack could have easily clobbered Rutched but didn't in order not to expose himself to the police, as on the loose killer Johnnie Bradfield. But instead went as far as he could taking everything that Rutchek could throw at him to help out his friends showed more then all the fights that he won in the boxing ring put together.

I for one didn't find the ending of the movie contrived at all but fitting right in with the story. The cop Morty Phelam, Claude Rains, who came to Arizona from New York to arrest Jack had to live with for years the fact that he once sent an innocent man to the electric chair. We were told all this right at the start of the movie. Why knowing that Jack/Johnnie was innocent of the murder that he's charged with and not knowing for sure if he'll be found innocent of it in a court of law would he want to make the same terrible mistake again? I can easily see this happening in real life why not then in the movies.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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