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Although innocent, reporter Frank Ross is found guilty of murder and is sent to jail. While his friends at the newspaper try to find out who framed him, Frank gets hardened by prison life and his optimism turns into bitterness. He meets fellow-inmate Stacey and they decide to help each other.Written by
Leon Wolters <wolters@strw.LeidenUniv.nl>
This was George Raft's first picture at Warner Bros. after being under a long-term contract at Paramount. The huge success of this film lead the studio to offer a long-term contact to Raft. However, this would be the only film in which Cagney and Raft would star in together. See more »
[All goofs for this title are spoilers.]
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Each Dawn I Die is directed by William Keighley and co-written by Warren Duff, Norman Reilly Raine and Charles Perry, who adapt from the novel of the same name written by Jerome Odlum. It stars James Cagney, George Raft, Jane Bryan and George Bancroft. Max Steiner scores the music and photography is by Arthur Edeson. Story sees Cagney as crusading newspaper reporter Frank Ross, who after dishing the dirt on crooked D.A. Jesse Hanley (Thurston Hall) finds himself set up as a drunk drive killer of three innocents. Sentenced to prison for a one to twenty year stretch, Frank makes friends with gangster Stacey (Raft). It's a friendship that will have great consequences for the both of them.
Out of the Warner Brothers tough guy library, Each Dawn I Die has star appeal and a pot boiling plot firmly on its side. Very much a success back on its release, it has come to be known as the film where the lead casting needed a role reversal. Yet watching it now, Cagney still gets to be a bad ass even though he's a decent man in the main. Prison hardens him, takes off his good edge and he becomes a seasoned convict. Raft on the other hand is laboured as the gangster, making this firmly Cagney's picture, but in fairness, Raft is not done any favours by the script, which appears to be undecided exactly how it wants the character of Stacey to be. In that respect the film doesn't realise the potential on offer. I mean, Cagney and Raft, in prison, amongst murder and violent guards, it really should be a springboard to a genre classic. But with Cagney often restrained and Raft phoning it in on reputation alone, story isn't strong enough to gain dramatic momentum alone. Thus the explosive ending, whilst hugely enjoyable, kind of comes of as being OTT and not in keeping with the talky tone that preceded it.
Other critics, both of the time and in recent years, have bemoaned the implausible nature of the story. Personally that doesn't wash with me, if I was going into a 1939 prison based drama featuring Cagney and Raft, I'm not expecting the story to tow the party line of facts and believability! While there's much to be said about the fact that at least Each Dawn I Die is not formulaic. Thematically it's a good film, where social conscience, loyalty and moral ethics get the once over, even if the threatened expose of corruption is barely given much thought other than to launch Cagney into jail. Where, thankfully, Cagney delivers another firecracker performance. Support is strong, with Bancroft (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town/ Stagecoach) as the Warden and Bryan (Kid Galahad/ A Slight Case of Murder) as the love interest of Ross making the most telling marks. Edeson's (Frankenstein/ All Quiet on the Western Front) photography is effective for the confines of prison life, and Steiner (The Informer/ Now, Voyager) scores it with dramatic bursts and reflective strains.
The flaws are evident now but you easily can see how a late 30's audience would lap this up. Not all that it can be, but with Cagney holding court and some nice themes within, it's still an easily recommended film. 7/10
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