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Each Dawn I Die
Directed by William Keighley
Produced by David Lewis
Hal B. Wallis
Jack L. Warner
Written by Warren Duff
Jerome Odlum (novel)
Norman Reilly Raine
Charles Perry (uncredited)
Starring James Cagney
George Raft
Jane Bryan
George Bancroft
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Arthur Edeson
Editing by Thomas Richards
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) 22 July 1939
Running time 92 min
Language English

Each Dawn I Die is a 1939 gangster film featuring James Cagney and George Raft in their only movie together as leads, although Raft had made an unbilled appearance in a 1932 Cagney vehicle called Taxi! in which he won a dance contest against Cagney, after which he and Cagney brawl. The plotline of Each Dawn I Die involves a crusading reporter (Cagney) who is unjustly thrown in jail and befriends a famous gangster (Raft). George Bancroft portrays the warden. The movie was a box-office smash and remains a favorite among aficionados of Warner Bros. gangster movies. The film was based on the novel of the same name by Jerome Odlum.


Plot summary

Frank Ross (Cagney) is a crusading reporter for a big city newspaper who is on the trail of a crooked assistant D.A., Jesse Hanley who is running for Governor. At the Banton Construction Co., Ross sees Hanley and his men burning books and ledgers before a possible investigation brought about by the paper that Ross works for. His editor Patterson backs Ross in getting Hanley but Hanley decides to get rid of him, so frames him. Knocked out and covered in whiskey, he is put in a runaway car which collides with another, killing 3 young people and is thrown in prison for one to twenty years on a charge of automotive manslaughter.

He meets a gangster, Stacey (Raft), who, as there is no death penalty in that state, is in for 199 years. They work in the twine-making room together and Stacey falls into Ross's debt when Ross saves him from a knife thrown by another inmate. Ross's reporter friends outside are trying to help him win vindication, by finding the real culprits, but they are having no success. Stacey agrees to help Ross find the real killers, if he helps him escape from a courthouse. They arrange that Stacey be named by Ross as guilty for killing of Limpy, another inmate and hated stool pigeon.

Ross goes along with the plot, but antagonizes Stacey by tipping off his old newspaper so the court room is full of reporters which jeopardises his escape. He escapes by leaping from a window onto a truck with a soft landing but makes no effort to find the real culprits who were responsible for Ross's predicament. Ross, meanwhile, is implicated in the escape and after being beaten up by brutal guards, spends five months in "the hole". This is a cell where prisoners in solitary confinement are handcuffed to the bars, standing up and are fed bread and water. Ross who has become a bad character is promised a chance at parole by the warden if he behaves but unknown to him, Hanley's stooge, Grayce has been appointed head of the Parole Board and turns Ross down, meaning he must wait another five years before he can try again for parole.

Stacey is convinced by Ross's reporter girlfriend, Joyce (Jane Bryan) to carry out his promise. He finds the man who "fingered" Ross and gets from him the name of the man who framed him: "Polecat", who just happens to be a jail house informant widely disliked in the same prison. Stacey, impressed with Ross being a "square guy," decides to go back to prison to find the informant and free Ross.

Stacey and Ross are caught up in a jailhouse riot using revolvers which have been smuggled in. A vicious prison guard is killed and the warden and some of his men are captured, as hostages. But the National Guard have been sent for and attack the escaping prisoners with machine guns, gas and hand grenades. Stacey gets hold of Polecat and has him confess to framing Ross, where the warden and his men can hear and Ross is vindicated. Most of the escaping convicts die including the badly wounded Stacey who takes Polecat with him and deliberately gets them both killed, so that Polecat cannot go back on his confession. As Ross leaves prison with his girlfriend, Governor Hanley is arrested for murder.



  • Between the period of 1928 to 1941 this was one of many films to be banned in Australia by the chief censor Creswell O'Reilly.

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