"Each Dawn I Die", released in 1939, is the best of the prison films which Warner Brothers made in the thirties. Even the title is fantastic. James Cagney plays a reporter working for a newspaper who is exposing the politicians who run the rackets. Cagney is framed, convicted and sent to prison for 10 years as retaliation. There, he meets hardened criminal George Raft.
The film was produced by Hal Wallis and benefits from a bigger budget than most of its predecessors. There is a more detailed and convincing expose of prison life than usual and cliches are avoided. You get a real feel for the hopelessness and boredom of the inmates. Cagney is subdued and underplays - very effective. George Raft, usually a wooden and stiff actor, rises to Cagney's level. Their friendship becomes very touching. The film develops real suspense as you wonder if Cagney will ever be released. Jane Bryan plays Cagney's girlfriend with a small but key part in the plot. Bryan was a very talented actress on the Warner's payroll who retired early when she married. She invests the part with great depth and is touching.
The print is excellent and the DVD has lots of extras, including a really worthwhile commentary by Haden Guest; at last, a commentator with a pleasant voice who avoids trivial biographical details and really observes the film as it unfolds. A contemporary featurette documentary on the language of the gangster film is included but it is by far the weakest in this series - a lot of historians/actors etc saying which lines they liked and who they imitated as children - yawn! There is also another of the Warner's blooper shorts which are entertaining, particularly if you know the actors on the studio payroll then. "A Day at San Anita" is is technicolour short film set around the race track. It stars the nauseating Shirley Temple contemporary Sybil Jason who is cloying in the worst child star sense. The colour is excellent and there is some interest in the shots of stars such as Bette Davis and then husband Harmon Nelson and Ruby Keeler with Al Jolson. The cartoon, which definitely does not date to 1939, is OK with a rooster that may have developed into Foghorn Leghorn. Finally, the Lux Radio version of the film is included with Franchot Tone replacing Cagney. These radio versions really only have historical interest.
The DVD is excellent value, particularly if purchased as part of the Warner's Tough Guys Collection.