Kyle Cubr reviews “They Made Me a Criminal” on Cine-File Chicago

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Primarily known for his work as a designer of elaborate production numbers and later a director in his own right of many 1930s musicals, including the tremendous GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933, Busby Berkeley departed from his normal oeuvre to make THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL, a crime-drama about a boxer on the run from the law. New York southpaw Johnnie Bradfield (John Garfield) has a squeaky clean image that becomes compromised when, while drunk, he blabs to a reporter that his facade is a sham put on for the public. When the reporter is accidentally killed by Johnnie’s manager and Johnnie becomes the prime suspect, he goes on the lam, assuming the identity of Jack Dorney, and finds himself on a farm training the ragtag, reformed youths (played by The ‘Dead End’ Kids) to box. One of the immediate comparisons to this film that comes to mind is the James Cagney driven ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES. Not only do both films feature The ‘Dead End’ Kids but also their central protagonists serve as the patriarchal, role models with sordid pasts trying to inspire the boys to a betterment of their respective situations. Johnnie/Jack is obsessed with not being made a ‘sucker’ and tries to take advantage of all those that he deems are such. Even though Garfield plays his role with charismatic likability, the yin-yang duality of his character remains the film’s most interesting arc, as he struggles with his own demons as well as the extraneous forces around him. THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL established John Garfield as a leading man in Hollywood and signified Busby Berkeley’s range as a director beyond the normal body of work he had been previously known for.

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