THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL (director: Busby Berkeley; screenwriter: Sig Herzig/based on the play Sucker by Bertram Millhauser & Beaulah Marie Dix; cinematographer: James Wong Howe; editor: Jack Killifer; music: Max Steiner; cast: John Garfield (Johnny Bradfield/”Jack Dorney”), Gloria Dickson (Peggy), Claude Rains (Detective Monty Phelan), Ann Sheridan (Goldie), May Robson (Granny Rafferty), Billy Halop (Tommy), Bobby Jordan (Angel), Leo Gorcey (Spit), Huntz Hall (Dippy), Gabriel Dell (T.B.), Bernard Punsely (Milt), Barbara Pepper (Budgie), John Ridgely (Charlie Magee, reporter), Ward Bond (Lenihan, boxing promoter), Robert Gleckler (Doc Ward), Frank Riggi (Gaspar Rutchek, Boxer), Robert Strange (Malvin, lawyer), William Davidson (Police Insp. Ennis); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Benjamin Glazer; Warner Bros.; 1939)
“Made competently enough and solidly acted so that one might forgive all the plot holes, unconvincing romance and outdated cornball antics.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A highly entertaining remake of The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933), that is made competently enough and solidly acted so that one might forgive all the plot holes, its predictability, unconvincing romance and outdated cornball antics. Noted musical director Busby Berkeley (“The Gang’s All Here”/”Take Me Out to the Ball Game”/”Gold Diggers of 1937”) acquits himself well in this straight crime melodrama from Warner Brothers that’s based on the play Sucker by Bertram Millhauser & Beaulah Marie Dix and written by Sig Herzig.
In Manhattan, Johnny Bradfield (John Garfield) wins the lightweight championship. He has a public image as a squeaky-clean boxer who is devoted to his mom. The truth is that Johnny is a cynical, hard drinking womanizer without a loving mom and who thinks only suckers believe his lies. At a private celebration party in his apartment after the fight with his untrustworthy slimy manager Doc Ward (Robert Gleckler) and floozy good-time girlfriend Goldie (Ann Sheridan), he’s visited by Goldie’s piggish drunken friend Budgie (Barbara Pepper) and her square date Charlie Magee (John Ridgely). While drunk, Johnny boasts he made up the mother story and his public image to fool the suckers; it turns out Charlie is a reporter and threatens to print the story. Before Johnny can stop him from leaving, he passes out drunk. But Doc conks Charlie on the noggin with a whiskey bottle and accidentally kills him, and then frames Johnny for the murder. The girls were in the other room, so they missed the action. Doc spears the unconscious Johnny away to their training camp, while he steals the boxer’s car, girlfriend, wallet and watch and goes on the run to leave Johnny alone to pay for his crime. But when chased on the highway by motorcycle cops for speeding, he crashes the car in a fiery wreck and the mangled body found in the car is identified to be that of Johnny.
The only one who doesn’t believe the body is Johnny’s, is Detective Phelan (Claude Rains). He’s the laughing stock of the department–a discredited cop whose once promising career was put on hold and he’s now stuck on a dead-end morgue detail because ten years ago he railroaded an innocent man into the electric chair. Phelan sees this as his chance to redeem himself, so he becomes obsessed over finding Johnny.
Johnny changes his name to Jack Dorney under the advice of chiseling boxing promoter Lenihan (Ward Bond) and rides the train hobo style out west, where in Arizona he stumbles onto a date ranch looking like a vagrant. The ranch is run by the kindly Grandma Rafferty (May Robson), as she is trying to reform a group of NYC delinquents from the slum that include Tommy (Billy Halop), Angel (Bobby Jordan), Spit (Leo Gorcey), T.B. (Gabriel Bell), Milt (Bernard Punsley) and Dippy (Huntz Hall)–who are known as the Dead End Kids. They have been sent there by a saintly NYC priest who passed away ending the charity funding. Tommy, the gang’s leader, has his pretty sis Peggy (Gloria Dickson) there to keep an eye on him. After a poor start, Jack and Peggy declare their love for each other, and he also bonds with the tough boys; but one of them takes his photo that hits the newspapers and thereby Detective Phelan tracks him down and learns Johnny’s identity when he sees him boxing a pro fighter (Frank Riggi) who pays out $500 a round for any amateur who gets in the ring with him. Despite the risk of getting caught, Johnny becomes a sucker so the ranch would get money to buy a gas station and thereby have a means of raising money to continue to help the delinquent kids from the slum.
REVIEWED ON 11/26/2008 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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