William Keighley’s Each Dawn I Die (1939) is a superbly crafted prison break melodrama costarring James Cagney and George Raft. Cagney plays cunning ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants’ reporter, Frank Ross.
Framed by a corrupt district attorney who is running a lumber company for graft, Ross is sentenced to life in prison for driving under the influence and creating a smash up in which an innocent family are killed. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Ross cannot get anyone to believe in his innocence, except his fellow reporter and romantic love interest Joyce Conover (Joyce Bryan).
While Conover launches into a one woman appeal, Ross meets fellow convict, Hood Stacey (Raft), a gangster revisiting the pen for his third and final time. The two become chums when Ross covers for Stacey during the murder of a corrupt and ruthless guard. After a staged prison break, Stacey vows to Ross to learn the truth behind his incarceration. However, once on the outside, Stacey reverts to his old ways, certain that Ross will eventually betray their confidence.
When Ross’ contrition does not occur he is beaten and sentenced to solitary confinement, vowing to Warden John Armstrong (George Bancroft) that he will become the worse inmate his jail has ever known. But Conover has more immediate plans. She contacts Stacey’s attorney on the outside and eventually Stacey to appeal to his sense of moral duty in keeping his promise to Ross.
Each Day I Die is taut melodrama. The film is justly famous for both Cagney and Raft’s central performances – raw, unhinged and full of the sort of quick shot lingo that made gangster/prison films so readily enticing on the screen.
Warner Home Video's DVD transfer is very impressive. Presumably because the original camera negative had been properly stored, the image throughout is crisp, clean and detailed for the most part. Whites are clean and bright. Blacks are solid and deep. Occasionally a slight amount of age related artifacts creep into the frame and draw attention briefly away from the narrative. The audio is mono but nicely restored and presented at an adequate listening level.
Extras include Warner’s Night At The Movies which includes theatrical trailers from this and other films of its vintage, short subjects, news reels and cartoons. There’s also a featurette with expert commentary provided by various film critics, and, a thorough audio commentary track. Bottom line: Warner Home Video delivers a very engaging supplementary package. Recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)