Watching 1939: Each Dawn I Die (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult.

1939 film: Each Dawn I Die (1939)

Release date: July 22, 1939

Cast: James Cagney, George Raft, Jane Bryan, Victor Jury, Louis Jean Heydt, Alan Baxter, Maxie Rosenbloom, Stanley Ridges, Paul Hurst, Thurston Hall, Willard Robertson, Edward Pawley, Pete Wray, George Brancroft

Studio: Warner Bros.

Director: William Keighley

Plot:
Reporter Frank Ross (Cagney) is hot on the trail of a story that will expose corruption in the district attorney’s office. To stop him from writing further, the district attorney’s frames him in a murder and Frank lands in jail.

1939 Notes:
• James Cagney was in three films released in 1939
• George Raft was in four films released in 1939
• Of the supporting cast: Paul Hurst was in 12 films in 1939; Stanley Ridges was in 8 films, Maxie Rosenbloom was in 7.
• One of only two films directed by William Keighley in 1939. The other was “Yes, My Darling Daughter.”

Other trivia:
• A July 19, 1938, news brief said Michael Curtiz was originally assigned to direct the film.
• In a June 1938 news brief, John Garfield and Gloria Dickson were announced as the stars. Then, in a July 15, 1938 news brief said Edward G. Robinson was originally set to start with James Cagney.
• Based on the book “Each Dawn I Die” by Jerome Odlum

Maxie Rosenbloom, James Cagney, Stanley Ridges, Edward Pawley, George Raft

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
Actors James Cagney and George Raft were no strangers to performing in films as tough guys who end up in prison.

In the year 1939, nearly every movie Raft starred in – he was in prison (“Each Dawn I Die” or “Invisible Stripes“) or plays a gambler or a taxi driver who was wronged.

In two of the three films Cagney starred in 1939, ends up on the wrong side of the law. In “The Roaring Twenties,” he’s a gangster and in “Oklahoma Kid,” he’s a gunslinger (yep, Cagney in a western).

But “Each Dawn I Die” is a bit different for Cagney. Instead of a mug, Cagney is an eager reporter trying to expose the corrupt local government. To put a stop to it, the leaders hire mugs to make it look like Cagney was drunk driving when he hits a vehicle, killing everyone in the car.

He goes to jail on a manslaughter charge with the DA personally making sure he doesn’t get out of jail to write more stories about him.

George Raft’s character is a prison mate that Cagney meets. Raft plans to break out of jail and promises to help Cagney on the outside.

“Each Dawn I Die” is your general Warner Bros. prison film but has elements that keep it interesting and sets it apart: a person who didn’t commit a crime finding himself in prison with no feasible way to get out; a prison murdering another prisoner who is also an informant, an ill prisoner dying due to mistreatment and prisoners ganging up on a guard and killing him.

The only disappointment I had in this film is that Jane Bryan has such little screentime. Bryan co-stars in a small and thankless role as James Cagney’s girlfriend.

“Each Dawn I Die” is fast-paced and stays interesting because of the supporting prison characters, as well as Cagney and Raft as the leads.

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