Deputy Commissioner of Correction Mark Braden finds a reform school in terrible condition and assumes control himself. He wins the boy's cooperation by being fair and falls in love with gang leader Frankie's sister Sue. This aides disgruntled employees in challenging Braden.
Humphrey Bogart ... Deputy Commissioner Mark Braden
Gale Page ... Sue Warren
Billy Halop ... Frank 'Frankie' Warren
Bobby Jordan ... Lester 'Squirt' Smith
Huntz Hall ... Richard 'Goofy' Slade
Leo Gorcey ... Charles 'Spike' Hawkins
Bernard Punsly ... George 'Fats' Papadopolos (as Bernard Punsley)
Gabriel Dell ... Timothy 'Bugs' Burke
George Offerman Jr. ... Red, Reform School 'Oldtimer'
Weldon Heyburn ... Mr. Cooper, Head Guard
Cy Kendall ... Reformatory Superintendant Morgan
Charles Trowbridge ... Judge Robert E. 'Bob' Clinton
Spencer Charters ... Old Doctor, Morgan's Brother-In-Law
Donald Briggs ... New Doctor
This was the first "Dead End Kids" film that I watched and I really enjoyed it (too bad they don't show it on television anymore). When I first watched it, it was at a time when I thought all "kid gang" films were like the Little Rascal/Our Gang Comedies. The Dead End Kids were the ones who broke the mold and made the kids believable and this film hooked me on them. The one scene that I was particularly shocked with was when Frankie (Billy Halop) tried to make a break for it and got caught in the barbed wire fence. What happened to him after still makes me cringe as he is whipped within an inch of his life with a cat-a-nine tails. Even though this film is not a classic like "Dead End", the film that introduced us to the Kids, it still is a good picture on it's own.
Crime School is a mediocre film, but still a good performance by Bogart. One of the Dead End Kids films, it struggles to keep you interested. The Dead End Kids are, well dead. The acting is very poor and the characters and almost annoying with the over done accents and supposed gang behavior. The main problem which contributes to the entire films downfall is the unrealistic dialog and actions. When one of the kids shows up at the pawnshop with a 100 lb cast iron bathtub, you roll your eyes. But when Cy Kendell gets fired from a job he has had for 12 years and he puts up almost no protest you have to reach for remote and try not to stop the tape. Its finer points are the moral and political statements the film makes on reforming child criminals. Sadism versus compassion, hate verses love, good points clouded by comical attempts at portraying tough street kids. Bogart is a great actor and plays the part well, of all the characters in the film his is the most believable and entertaining. Definitely not one of Lew Seiler's best movies. I would not rent it unless you are old enough to connect for nostalgic reasons, but if it shows on TV it is worth muddling through it.
Warner Brothers decided to save a bundle on purchasing new properties for the Dead End Kids. The boys did They Made Me a Criminal a year later which was a remake of The Life of Jimmy Dolan and Crime School is a remake of The Mayor from Hell.
Fellow gangster icon James Cagney starred in The Mayor from Hell which I also reviewed here. Such things as Cagney's motivation and commitment to the reform school and the manner with which the boys take matters into their own hands is pretty grisly. None of that in this kinder, gentler film.
Sleepers has a lot of the same elements in both The Mayor from Hell and Crime School. It's certainly better than Crime School. This was one film whose message was watered down to nothing.
Nevertheless Crime School does have Humphrey Bogart in it and the Dead End Kids are always entertaining.
I wonder what kind of stuff the Dead End Kids would have been turning out had they come along pre-Code?
In between 1937's "Dead End" and 1938's "Angels With Dirty Faces", came "Crime School", all three films teaming the Dead End Kids with Humphrey Bogart. "Dead End" first introduced the misfit gang of course, and not quite a year later they had top billing in this tale of ghetto poverty and reform school violence. Billy Halop portrayed the leader of the Dead End Kids in all three films, and went on to co-star with Bogey in one more prison movie, 1939's "You Can't Get Away With Murder".
This early on, the Dead End concept wasn't fully fleshed out, as each movie brought the same actors to the screen, though with different names. But their screen personas essentially remained the same; in this film Leo Gorcey is the tough wise guy Spike, Huntz Hall goes by Goofy, and Bobby Jordan is known as Squirt. Interestingly, Gorcey rats out on Halop's character in both "Dead End" and "Crime School".
For his part, Humphrey Bogart played the heel in all the films mentioned, except "Crime School", where he got to turn in a portrayal of level headed and compassionate Deputy Commissioner Mark Braden. In no nonsense fashion, he fires inept guards and the reformatory's crooked Superintendent Morgan (Cy Kendall). However Morgan's hand picked head guard Cooper (Weldon Heyburn) remains behind, feigning loyalty to Braden, but using Spike to create a divisive wedge between Braden and fellow inmate Frankie Warren (Halop). Thrown into the mix is Frankie's sister Sue (co-star Gale Page), who becomes Braden's love interest in the film.
"Crime School" is a taut and well paced film, even if the story line gets muddy with Deputy Commissioner Braden's complicity in covering up the gang's prison break and eventual return. As with other Warner Brothers/First National films of the era, the studio paints a picture of the futility of crime and violence as an answer to poverty. In addition to recommending the movies already mentioned, "Little Caesar" and "Public Enemy" are also must see films, though somewhat harder edged.
An interesting point of trivia - in the prison yard scene when the Pledge of Allegiance is recited for the new commissioner, the words "under God" had not yet been added to the version we know today.