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William Keighley
James Cagney, George Raft, Jane Bryan
Writing Credits:
Warren Duff, Norman Reilly Raine

A corrupt DA with political ambitions becomes angered by news stories that implicate him in criminal activity and decides to frame the reporter who wrote them for manslaughter in order to silence him.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 92 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 4/27/2021

• 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


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Each Dawn I Die [Blu-Ray] (1939)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 13, 2021)

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, as 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 1940s and the 1950s.

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 permit 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 Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Each Dawn I Die appears in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc.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 edge haloes remained absent.

Blacks were deep and firm, while shadows came across as smooth and concise. The movie offered nice contrast from start to finish.

Grain felt natural, and no print flaws materialized. This became a strong presentation.

The DTS-HD MA 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 an 82-year-old flick, so I didn’t take the tinny nature of the track as a disappointment. This was a more than adequate track for an ancient flick.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the DVD version? The lossless audio felt a bit warmer, though the age of the material limited improvements.

Visuals offered a solid boost, as the Blu-ray looked cleaner, tighter and smoother. This turned into an appealing upgrade.

The Blu-ray replicates the DVD’s extras, and we open with an audio commentary from film historian Haden Guest. He provides a running, screen-specific discussion that looks at 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, as he digs into the flick with gusto and provides a list of good insights. I can’t complain too much about this involving piece.

On the DVD, we got a presentation called “Warner Night at the Movies”. It offered an attempt to replicate the cinematic experience circa 1939, so it allowed you to view a series of film features prior to the main movie.

Alas, the Blu-ray doesn’t let us hit “Play All” and watch the clips in order without effort, but the disc does repeat all these components. We find a preview for Wings of the Navy (3:22) and we also get a period newsreel called “World Events” (1:24).

We also locate an animated short called Detouring America (7:57) and a live-action short entitled A Day at Santa Anita (18:00). Oddly, the disc bills the melodramatic weepy Santa Anita as a “documentary short”.

Anita does show some actual race footage, but most of it provides a scripted story – and a lousy one at that. At least we get fun cameos from movie stars like Bette Davis and Edward G. Robinson.

At least the Tex Avery-directed Detouring works better. It offers a wacky look at various landmarks and largely amuses. It suffers from some badly outdated racial stereotypes, though.

Next comes a featurette called Stool Pigeons and Pine Overcoats: The Language of Gangster Films. This 20-minute, 59-second piece features 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 eight minute 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. 54 seconds, and 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 re-issue trailer, we find Breakdowns of 1939. This 14-minute, 35-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 Blu-ray offers 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.

To rate this film, visit the DVD review of EACH DAWN I DIE

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