Another typical Dead End kids picture, but with the single exception that it has James Cagney and Pat O’Brien to bolster the dramatic interest.
Cagney is the tenderloin toughie who’s the idol of the gutter-bred youngsters because of his criminal exploits and cocky belligerence. O’Brien is the priest who was a boyhood chum of Cagney’s and who seeks to retrieve the neighborhood kids from trying to emulate their gangster hero. There’s a singular ending for the story which has Cagney pretending to turn yellow as he goes to the electric chair so he’ll kill the kids’ unhealthy adoration. It is a novel twist to a commonplace story [by Rowland Brown], but it’s thoroughly hokey.
The screenplay contains many effective cinematic touches. However, in at least one instance the same set is used for two supposedly different locales.
Cagney and O’Brien form an irresistible team. Their personalities and acting styles offer both a blend and an eloquent contrast. Cagney has a swagger and an aw-go-to-hell pugnacity. O’Brien gives an eminently credible performance of the mild-mannered, two-fisted, compassionate priest. The Dead End kids are as rambunctious as usual.
1938: Nominations: Best Director, Actor (James Cagney), Original Story