Each Dawn I Die (1939)

Genres - Crime, Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Gangster Film, Prison Film  |   Release Date - Jul 22, 1939 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 92 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Each Dawn I Die comes on like gangbusters almost from the beginning and rarely lets up. It's a slam-bang, action-packed, shoot 'em up "popcorn" flick that's a pure delight (unless, of course, one has an aversion to slam-bang, action-packed, shoot 'em up "popcorn" flicks.) Granted, there's not a lot in Dawn that's especially original; it's a familiar "innocent man thrown in jail" yarn. But the lack of originality I nits plot, setting and characters turns into an asset in the hands of director William Keighley, his writers and his cast. Dawn has plenty of punchy dialogue, terse snatches of badinage that perfectly delineate character without wasting a word. The set-ups pay off in a big way, thanks to Keighley's smooth but edgy direction. The helmer is in great form, packing as much impact into each scene as he can, but knowing when to turn the dramatic volume down for the appropriate respites. All his work would be for naught, though, without James Cagney and George Raft to light up the screen. Raft was born to play this kind of tough hood, the cynical heel that ends up having a soft side that may stop short of nobility, but not by that wide a margin. And Cagney is simply electrifying, smashing his way through the tough scenes and underplaying beautifully when the script gives him half a chance. Together, these stars make a good film into a really memorable one.