Crime School Film Details
Overview: A gang of underprivileged teenagers are sentenced to serve two years in a reform school after almost killing a criminal fence who attacked them.
Tagline: They’ll steal your heart again as they turn against the system that tries to make them killers!
Review: Directed by Lewis Seiler in 1938, “Crime School” doesn’t have the documentary-like realism of “Dead End” nor the religious resonance of “Angel with Dirty Faces” but it works as a good follow-up of one and a fair premise to the other, and if the overall result doesn’t leave much to criticize, it doesn’t leave more to praise either. The film is the first Warner Bros production starring the ‘Dead End’ kids after their misbehavior during the shooting of “Dead End” convinced United Artists to let them go. Warner tried to advertise the film by branding them as the ‘Crime School’ kids, but they were such a hit that the audience would forever associate them to the initial movie, probably expecting another dynamite-story with this one. And my expectations were high too, “Dead End” ended with the gang’s leader, played by Billy Halop, being taken to the Police, and “Crime School” could have worked as a sequel. Halop’s character also had a struggling sister played by Gale Page, and the story could have been a riveting commentary on the reformatory system in the USA, at first, you try to fix the evil from the roots, now, in its early blooming. Unfortunately, that terrific premise turned into a gentle story about a good man, played by Humphrey Bogart, trying to put kids on the right side. I loved seeing Bogart in a character totally opposite from his “Dead End” ‘Baby Face’ Martin, proving once again that he wasn’t an actor to be typecast in gangster roles and could as well pose as a decent gentleman. Watching the kids’ interactions and Bogart’s restrained performance were the film’s redeeming qualities. “Crime School” had so much to offer. Indeed, while “Dead End” was a neighborhood story following many character’s arcs, in “Crime School”, the kids were the main protagonists, especially Billy Halop, who, through his conflict relationship between his overprotective sister and his reputation with the gang, tries to find the balance between being a good brother and not appearing soft. His paradox is also highlighted by the pivotal arrest; it was for getting money to buy his sister a writing machine that the fight started And the bargained turns wrong; Leo Grocey (always the cause of troubles) hit the junkman’s head with a hard object, knocking him out. The man survives so they could escape from a more severe sentence, but following their code of honor, no one divulged who hit him, since “Dead End”, we know the value (and the reward) of a squealer. They’re all arrested and put in reformatory school, in jail-like conditions more likely to ‘educate’ them about violence and crime, than rehabilitating them, hence the thought-provoking title. Good start. This is a terrific premise but the script, surprisingly cautious for a Warners’ production, was too shy to reflect the real image of violence, or to emphasize its dramatic value. The same man dying would’ve been a great turning point for the story. Another under-exploitation was the great character of Warden Morgan (Cy Kendall) whose terrifying eyes and authoritarian voice would’ve been a great match to these hard-boiled kids. What an antagonist to good old Braden (Bogart) he would’ve been, but he had to be fired for once, I wished Bogart wasn’t too omnipresent. What I can’t overlook though is the furnace scene, where an angry Frankie decides to put too much coal to teach them a lesson, naturally, this thrilling scene ends up in an explosion that merely kills Bobby Jordan, the sweetest and gentlest of the group. Had he died, it would have been a shock, and a significant self-revelation for Frankie or another fuel of anger. Instead, it was just the occasion to show an act of bravery from Braden and make him and Frankie bury the hatchet war, a bit too hazily. A man like Braden should’ve slapped Frankie in the face to teach him a lesson about using your own anger to endanger your friends’ lives, no, it was like all ends well that ends well. It’s a great sight to the eyes, Halop and Bogart shaking hands, but at 15 minutes of the film, what was left was only a last-minute frame from the head-guard that fails in a blatant anticlimactic way. Frankie was lead to believe that his sister was paying Braden in exchange of good favors, sort of prostituting herself, but why not making Braden a less clean-and-cut character and his motivations more ambiguous. His ambition to parole the kids could’ve been genuine but he had the right to have his own selfish reasons. What saves the film from a rather simple, but not exciting storyline, is the performances, everyone is outstanding, the kids are more rooted in their characters, Leo Grocey is as sneaky as usual, Frankie delivers a great heart-breaking performance, the villains are good. And it’s precisely for this reason that I wished the film had the guts of “Dead End” or “Angels” something that would cut straight to your heart. The film is full of good intentions, but its approach to delinquency and criminality is naive and tends to minimize it, the same positive message could’ve been delivered at the end, but the story deserved more. What do I mean by that? In “Blackboard Jungle”, a sort of “Dead End” kids of the 50’s, one of the lessons was that some kids are irremediable and they have to be pushed away not to influence the other ones. Not intolerant, realistic. Speaking with the languages of the 21th century, “Crime School” has the appeal of a low- budgeted TV movie.
Duration: 85 min
Genre: Crime, Drama
Also known as: No Limiar do Crime,De school der misdaad,Schule des Verbrechens,Verwaarloosde jeugd,L’école du crime,Школа преступности,Ungdom på farliga vägar,Crime School,Escuela del delito,Forbryderskolen,Szkoła zbrodni,A Melhor Vitória,Piso ap’ ta sidera