The future is a dead Issue.
Once again we've chosen what we think is the best poster for a vintage film. In this case it's the urban drama Dead End with Humphrey Bogart, and the poster is one painted by Jean Mascii for the French release as La rue sans issue. Bogart features prominently in both the art and film, but the rest of cast includes Sylvia Sidney, Joel McCrea, Claire Trevor, and Wendy Barrie. We're talking good, solid actors—two of them future Academy Award winners—and they make Dead End an excellent movie. In addition it was based on a play by Sidney Kingsley, with the script penned by Lillian Hellman, more top talent. Kingsley had already won a Pulitzer Prize, and Hellman had written many hit plays.
The plot of Dead End covers a day on a slummy dead end street in Manhattan on the East River, and the characters that interact there. The area is in the midst of gentrification, with fancy townhouses displacing longtime residents mired by the effects of the Great Depression. Because of construction on the next block the cosseted owners of a luxury home must for several days use their back entrance, which opens onto the dead end street. Thus you get interaction between all levels of society. There are the lowliest streets punks, an educated architect who can't find work, a woman who intends to marry for security instead of love, a gangster who's returned to his old neighborhood hoping to reconnect with his first love, and the rich man and his family.
There's plenty going on in the film, but as always we like to keep our write-ups short, so for our purposes we'll focus on the gangster, Humphrey Bogart, and his former girl, Claire Trevor. Bogart has risen to the top ranks of crime through smarts and ruthlessness, but to him Trevor represents a cleaner past and possibly a better future. He waits on the street for a glimpse of her, and when that finally happens he's thrilled. Trevor is less so, but there's no doubt she still loves Bogie. When he says he'll take her away from the slum she balks. It soon dawns on Bogie that she doesn't intend to leave, and he's devastated and confused. Trevor is evasive at first, then, pressured by Bogart, finally shouts, “I'm tired! I'm sick! Can't you see it! Look at me good! You're looking at me the way I used to be!” With that she moves from shadow:
Bogart takes a good look, from bottom to top:
And he realizes she is sick. Though it's unspoken, he realizes she has syphilis. All his dreams come crashing down in that devastating moment. He's disgusted, and it leads to an astonishing exchange of dialogue.
Bogart: Why didn't you get a job?
Trevor: They don't grow on trees.
Bogart: Why didn't you starve first?
Trevor: Why didn't you? Well? What did you expect?
Bogart escaped the poverty of that dead end street through organized crime, and killed on his rise to riches. Trevor had to survive through prostitution. Bogart thinks he's better than her; she tells him he's not. In his toxic male world, murder is less offensive than sex. He's the one who's twisted—not her. In addition to a great film moment, it's a clever Hays Code workaround. Nothing about sex, prostitution, or venereal disease could be stated, but through clever writing, acting, context, and direction—by William Wyler—the facts were clear to audiences. The rest of the story arcs are just as involving, and the movie on the whole is a mandatory drama. Dead End premiered in the U.S. in 1937, and in France today in 1938.