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William Keighley
James Cagney, George Raft, Jane Bryan, George Bancroft, Max 'Slapsie Maxie' Rosenbloom, Stanley Ridges, Alan Baxter, Victor Jory
Writing Credits:
Warren Duff, Jerome Odlum (novel), Norman Reilly Raine

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.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Monaural

Runtime: 92 min.
Price: $19.97
Release Date: 7/18/2006

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Haden Guest
• “Stool Pigeons and Pine Overcoats: The Language of Gangster Films” Featurette
• “Warner Night at the Movies” Short Subjects Gallery
• “How I Play Golf by Bobby Jones No. 10: Trouble Shots” Short
• “Breakdowns of 1939” Blooper Reel
• 1943 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast
• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Each Dawn I Die (1939)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 21, 2006)

Take a look at the cover of 1939’s Each Dawn I Die up in the left-hand corner of this screen. Is it just me, or does that art have something of a Brokeback feel to it? James Cagney and George Raft look more like they want to bunk together than anything else. Heck, the movie’s title even sounds like it’d easily fit a tragic romance ala Brokeback!

Inadvertent homoerotic overtones aside, Dawn offers a prison drama. (No homoerotic potential in that setting!) Cagney plays Frank Ross, a man imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. City leaders frame him when he writes about their corruption and he ends up in prison.

As Ross adjusts to jail, he meets life-long criminal Hood Stacey (George Raft). Though Stacey initially gives Ross a hard time, the pair soon bond and become pals. They work to help out each other, particularly in regard to Ross’s attempts to prove his innocence. This eventually leads down some complicated paths.

I suppose Dawn deserves some credit for relative ambition. It clearly sympathizes with the prisoners most of the time. Granted, we meet some nasty characters, but they get what they deserve, and most of the jailbirds come across as fairly noble and likable. Even when they go astray, they prove responsible and worthwhile in the end.

Dawn also goes out of its way to make authority figures look bad. It does so from its very first scene and continues that path through its conclusion. Actually, not all of the leaders are bad. For instance, the prison’s warden tries to keep his guards from abusing he prisoners. However, most of the movie’s authorities come across poorly in this surprisingly insolent story.

Cagney’s role lets him have his cake and eat it too. On one hand, he gets to play a more respectable character than his usual criminal. Ross goes to jail because of his attempts to aid the public good, so it’s hard to think of a personality more deserving of admiration.

On the other hand, his time in prison allows him to embrace his inner gangster. This proves especially true as the movie progresses and Ross becomes more seasoned as a jailbird. He eventually even starts to spit out barbs toward the “coppers”, just like we expect from Cagney.

All of this could possibly create a compelling story, but Dawn fails to live up to its potential. The film seems unsure where it wants to go. At its start, it works as an exposé of sorts that seems determined to detail abuses of official power. That made it unusual for its era, as we didn’t see many flicks like that until the late Forties and the Fifties.

However, the plot quickly abandons those themes to more strongly embrace its typical gangster elements. Sure, that allows Cagney to dig into his old character traits, but it doesn’t allow the film to become anything special.

The flick’s flimsy premise doesn’t help. Didn’t they test blood alcohol levels back in the Thirties? Perhaps not, but it still seems tough to believe that Ross would go to jail for a crime as poorly set up as the one that lands him in the joint. His imprisonment isn’t as bad as the one in Con Air, but it remains a stretch

I could live with that if Dawn was more consistent. For every good step it takes, it backfires in other ways. All of this culminates in a pretty ridiculous gun-fighting climax and lots of overacted melodrama. I didn’t dislike Dawn, but I can’t say I enjoyed it much either.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Each Dawn I Die appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though the transfer occasionally showed its age, the movie usually looked quite good.

Only a few minor problems affected sharpness. I noticed occasional signs of softness in some wide shots. Those remained infrequent, though, as the flick mostly demonstrated nice delineation and accuracy. I witnessed no signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and only a little light edge enhancement occurred.

Blacks were deep and firm, while shadows came across as smooth and concise. The movie offered nice contrast from start to finish. It also suffered from only a few examples of source flaws. At times I thought the movie was a bit grainy, and some instances of spots, blotches and lines occurred. However, these were pretty minor given the movie’s age, as most of the flick seemed pretty clean. Overall, this worked as a solid transfer.

The monaural soundtrack of Each Dawn I Die also appeared perfectly fine for an old movie like this. Speech was a little brittle but always remained concise and intelligible. Though effects lacked heft, they seemed clean and acceptably accurate. Music was also thin but clear. I don’t expect great range or definition from a 67-year-old flick, so I didn’t take the tinny nature of the track as a disappointment. Some hiss came along with the mix, but no other background noise distracted me. This was a more than adequate track for an ancient flick.

Next we go to the DVD’s extras. These open with an audio commentary from film historian Haden Guest, who provides a running, screen-specific discussion. He talks about story and thematic issues, James Cagney’s problems at Warner Bros. and how this movie fits in his career, cast and characters, filmmaking choices, the prison film genre, cuts from the original script, other actors considered for the roles, and censorship concerns.

Guest focuses more on interpretation than he does nuts and bolts issues. I admit I’d prefer a track that better balances the two areas. That said, Guest brings us a consistently interesting discussion. He digs into the flick with gusto and provides a list of good insights. I can’t complain too much about this involving piece.

A creative and fun addition to the set, Warner Night at the Movies attempts to replicate the cinematic experience circa 1939. This feature starts with a preview for Wings of the Navy. We also get a period newsreel, an animated short called Detouring America and a documentary short entitled A Day at Santa Anita. These are the kinds of pieces that might have preceded a theatrical showing of Dawn, so if you activate this feature, you get an attempt to duplicate a night at the cinema. I like this program and think it’s quite clever.

Next comes a new featurette called Stool Pigeons and Pine Overcoats: The Language of Gangster Films. This 20-minute and 55-second piece features movie clips and interviews. We discover notes from Guest, film historians Drew Casper, Lincoln D. Hurst, Rick Jewell, Patricia King Hanson, Eric Lax, Vivian Sobchack, screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, producer Robert Evans, writer/director Frank Miller, directors Lili Fini Zanuck, Martin Scorsese and Larry Cohen, and actors Talia Shire, Theresa Russell, and Michael Madsen.

As implied by the title, we learn about the dialogue used in gangster flicks. The show covers how James Cagney helped solidify the “talkies”, roots of the genre’s dialogue and examples of famous lines. We also get societal implications of the language. This doesn’t prove to be a particularly scholarly examination of its subject, but it manages to become fairly interesting. It elaborates on the gangster era and its language to a moderately satisfying degree, though it doesn’t excel.

A “bonus cartoon” pops up after this. We find 1948’s Each Dawn I Crow . The short has virtually nothing to do with the feature film other than its title. It shows a rooster who worries that Farmer Elmer Fudd will kill and eat him. It’s a decent though predictable cartoon.

For an “audio-only” feature, we discover a 3/22/1943 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast. For this version of Dawn, George Raft reprises his role of Stacey while Franchot Tone takes over the Ross part from Cagney. The show runs a total of 57 minutes and 49 seconds. It offers a fairly succinct reenactment of the movie. It doesn’t lose too much material as it reworks the flick. Unfortunately, Tone is a lousy replacement for Cagney. He sleepwalks through the program and never brings any bite to his character. I always appreciate the inclusion of these shows even when I don’t like them; they’re cool historical additions. Just don’t expect this one to be especially memorable.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find Breakdowns of 1939. This 14-minute and 34-second blooper reel works just like modern ones, but the presence of famous faces like Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson makes it more fun than usual. Heck, we even get profanity from Porky Pig!

Each Dawn I Die flits from one topic to another without much coherence. The flick has some good moments but lacks enough focus to succeed. The DVD offers pretty solid picture and audio along with a nice collection of supplements. I wasn’t wild about the movie, but I can’t find too many problems with this quality release.

Note that you can buy Each Dawn I Die alone or as part of a six-movie “Tough Guys Collection”. The latter packages Dawn with San Quentin, Bullets or Ballots, A Slight Case of Murder, ”G” Men, and City for Conquest. This set is a steal for folks who want to own the various movies. It retails for about $60, which equals the list price of three of the DVDs separately. It’s like a “buy three, get three free” deal and is a real bargain.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2 Stars Number of Votes: 5
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