Each Dawn I Die (1939) – It’s been a while since I unspooled this Jimmy Cagney classic…and I kind of forgot how corny it is. Cagney plays Frank Ross, a crusading newspaper reporter whose muckraking expose on a corrupt D.A. (Thurston Hall—who else?) and his stooge (Victor Jory) gets him in a heap o’trouble—he winds up going in The Big House, framed on a manslaughter charge (he was “responsible” for the death of three people while driving under the influence). Fortunately for Ross, he’s made a friend in “Hood” Stacy (George Raft), a lifer who convinces the reporter to rat him out for the death of a prison stoolie (Joe Downing) so that he can escape during the trial and find the individual (Abner Biberman) responsible for falsely fingering Ross. Because Ross tipped off his paper as to Stacy’s plan, Stacy reneges on his promise to assist Frank…but Ross’s loyal girlfriend (Jane Bryan) talks some sense into the Stacester, who gives himself up at approximately the same time several of their convict pals are planning a massive prison break.
Dawn is one of those movies that if you stop to think about the plot will elicit a “Oh, come on!” response from inside—fortunately, director William Keighley makes certain there’s no time to ponder the implausibilities and instead keeps the film moving like an runaway express train to Hell. The movie also contains one of Cagney’s best performances—as a “right guy” who finds “the System” doesn’t always play fair…and as the proceedings continue, becomes more and more embittered about his circumstances (“I'll get out if I have to kill every screw in the joint!”). Plenty of familiar character faces in this one: “Slapsie” Maxie Rosenbloom, George Bancroft, Stanley Ridges, Alan Baxter, Edward Pawley, Emma Dunn, Louis Jean Heydt, etc. Mom gave this one a big thumbs-up.
'G' Men (1935) – I personally thought this film—in which Cagney’s a criminal lawyer who becomes a Fed to avenge the death of a pal—was a much better outing for the actor; most of the movie will probably be familiar territory because what were once original touches have now become clichés but if you approach it with the mindset of “hey…this was groundbreaking stuff back then” you’ll get a big kick out of it. The only disappointing aspect of Men is that TDOY fave Ann Dvorak takes a back seat to Margaret Lindsay in the love interest department; Mom, on the other hand, always has trouble looking past Robert Armstrong as anybody but Carl “King Kong” Denham. William Keighley held the reins on this production, too, which showcases familiar Warner faces such as Barton MacLane and Harold Huber…not to mention Lloyd Nolan, Russell Hopton, Edward Pawley (yeah, he’s in this one, too), Monte Blue, Regis Toomey and Addison Richards. (The DVD version is the 1949 re-release, which features David Brian in a brief prologue.)