What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… Each Dawn I Die (1939)

We’re pulling double-duty yet again, as we look into another recent Blu-ray release! This time, we’re looking into the 1939 film Each Dawn I Die, featuring this month’s Star, James Cagney, as well as George Raft!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Railroadin’ (1929)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1 (1929-1930) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 18 minutes, 53 seconds)

The kids are all hanging out at the train yard where Joe’s (Joe Cobb) father works, when a bum starts the train and the kids find themselves unable to stop it. This short (which is also the first of 22 appearances of Norman “Chubby” Chaney in the gang) is something of an improvement over Small Talk, with the acting a bit more natural (still needs some work, but it’s improved). The humor also needs a bit of work, with the main joke being the kids’ inability to stop the train completely (and only being able to switch directions), which goes on a little too long. The funniest moment within that whole section is when the train keeps running over Farina (Allen Hoskins), who has his foot caught in the track and keeps lying down (although it’s obvious that model work is used when actually showing it). Maybe not the series at its best (from what I have heard), but enjoyable enough that I want to keep watching, just the same!

Coming Up Shorts! with… A Day At Santa Anita (1937)

(available as an extra on the Each Dawn I Die Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 18 minutes,)

A little girl named Peaches inherits a racehorse when her father dies. She and the horse become so close, her presence is needed to help the horse stay calm and win. It’s a decent short, with a few cameos from movie stars like Al Jolson, Ruby Keeler, Hugh Herbert, Frank McHugh and Edward G. Robinson at the racetrack. It’s nothing original, with other gamblers trying to cheat to get their horse to win, and the little girl helping the horse. It’s interesting, but that’s about the only thing to be said about this one (besides the fact that it’s an early Technicolor short).

Coming Up Shorts! with… Detouring America (1939)

(available as an extra on the Each Dawn I Die Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 7 minutes, 57 seconds)

A narrator takes us on a tour of the U.S. This short is one of Tex Avery’s efforts while at Warner Brothers. There are some fun gags here, with one recurring bit about Mr. Butterfingers, “The Human Fly,” trying to climb the outside of the Empire State building. There are some dated moments, particularly with one black character who resembles the blackface look of the time (never mind a few other stereotypes). It’s fun, but it’s not as good as some of Tex Avery’s other directorial efforts.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Each Dawn I Crow (1949)

(available as an extra on the Each Dawn I Die Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 8 minutes)

John Rooster, egged on by the Narrator, is afraid he will become Farmer Fudd’s Sunday dinner. This is another type of cartoon with a narrator making an easy-going character paranoid about what’s going to happen to him (but that’s the fun right there). Elmer Fudd as the farmer is admittedly a minor character, but that works quite well. The rooster’s attempts to delay his execution are what drives this cartoon, and are certainly hilarious as everything backfires on him. Certainly one I enjoy coming back to now and again!

And Now For The Main Feature…

A corrupt district attorney, Jesse Hanley (Thurston Hall), is running for governor of the state, but when a newspaper calls him out on his corruption, he and his associate, Grayce (Victory Jory), decide to burn their books. Newspaper reporter Frank Ross (James Cagney) observes them doing it, and writes up a big story, with the support of his editor. However, the D.A. doesn’t like that, and decides to play dirty. He sends some thugs after Frank, who knock him out, stick him in a car, make him look like a drunk driver, and send the car off. Before crashing, he ends up killing three people, and, despite his protesting that he is innocent, he is sent to prison. On his way there, he meets convict “Hood” Stacey (George Raft). The two don’t really hit it off, but, once in the prison, Frank saves Stacey from being killed by another inmate with a grudge (and who is a bit of a stool pigeon for the guards), Limpy Julien (Joe Downing). Eventually, Limpy Julien is killed when the prisoners are watching a movie. Frank suspects Stacey of doing it, but he doesn’t say anything about it to anybody. Stacey comes to him and admits that he wasn’t the one who killed Limpy Julien, but, since Frank kept quiet, Stacey asks Frank to turn him in. Figuring he would get a trial at the courthouse and could escape from there, Stacey promises to help Frank find the men that framed him. Frank is initially resistant, but, after seeing his mother break down when she comes to visit him, he decides to make the deal with Stacey, and turns him in. Frank sneaks a message to his former colleagues from the newspaper that something will go down at the courthouse, which spooks Stacey when he makes his (successful) escape. The prison guards try to force Frank to tell them what he knew about the escape, but he clams up about it, resulting in him being stuck in solitary confinement. While the guards keep trying to get him to talk, he proves to be a very troublesome prisoner. Meanwhile, Frank’s girlfriend, Joyce Conover (Jane Bryan), worries about Frank since the newspaper is having no luck in trying to get Frank out legally, so she tries to reach out to Stacey through his lawyer. When she sees Stacey, she tries to convince him how loyal Frank has been, and is awaiting word. She gets through to Stacey, who sends some of his men to find out what they can. Meanwhile, Joyce talks to the prison warden, John Armstrong (George Bancroft), and persuades him to give Frank a chance. Frank tries to behave himself, but, when he comes up for parole, he finds the head of the board is Hanley’s man, Grayce, and is turned down. When Stacey finds out that the man who framed Frank is Polecat Carlisle (Alan Baxter) and he is in the same prison as Frank (and one of the stool pigeon prisoners, no less), Stacey turns himself in at the prison. But, with the other prisoners planning a prison break, can Stacey and Frank get the proof they need?

Each Dawn I Die was based on the 1938 novel of the same name by Jerome Odlum. When Warner Brothers bought the film rights, it was intended as a vehicle for James Cagney (although he was originally to play the part of the gangster “Hood” Stacey). However, the original plan was to have him star opposite Edward G. Robinson. That didn’t happen, and John Garfield was next slated to co-star (with Michael Curtiz directing). Once again, things changed, and William Keighley was given the director’s job. George Raft, an old friend of Cagney’s (and who had made a quick appearance in the 1931 James Cagney film Taxi), was coming off his contract at Paramount. When they cast him in the film (as the reporter), he suggested that he and Cagney should switch roles, and thus, we got the movie as it is. It proved to be popular (in an already crowded year, considering this was a 1939 release), which led to George Raft being signed to Warner Brothers.

I can’t deny that James Cagney’s performance in this movie is indeed what makes it worthwhile! We see him in action as a reporter on a crusade to deal with a corrupt district attorney running for governor of the state. Cagney’s Frank Ross is against crime and corruption, and yet, prison time makes him as much of a con with a grudge against the world as those that actually belonged there! Even worse, he can see how he has changed, like when he breaks down and cries at his parole hearing after he threatens the members of the parole board. Honestly, it’s hard not to feel for him, when everything he and his friends try to do honestly manages to fail.

I’m coming off my first time seeing this movie. Plain and simple, James Cagney’s presence in this movie is the main reason I saw it, and he doesn’t disappoint (not to mention the fact that this movie came from Hollywood’s golden year, 1939)! I really appreciate his performance here, as I’ve indicated. I’m no fan of George Raft, but, from the handful of films that I’ve seen with him in them, I would put this as one of his better performances, as a mobster who essentially came from a similar background to Cagney’s reporter (with their life choices being the main difference between them). The movie certainly doesn’t mince words when it comes to showing how poor prison life can be for inmates, with all the guards essentially trying to break the inmates (and making some of them worse), instead of trying to reform them. There will be those that take issues with some of the various plot devices used to move the story along, but I find it to be a wonderful prison/gangster movie. I certainly have no qualms in recommending this one highly!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection. The Blu-ray transfer comes from a new 4K scan of the best surviving nitrate preservation elements (in this case, a nitrate fine grain master). While I’ve never seen the movie before this, I can say that the transfer on the Blu-ray is, as usual for Warner Archive, FANTASTIC! The clarity is there, and shows off all the detail. The dust and dirt and other debris is gone. Seriously, you can’t get much better than this!

Film Length: 1 hour, 32 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)James CagneyYankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Spawn Of The North (1938) – George Raft – Black Widow (1954)

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