Crime School (1938)

When a gang of street kids appears in his court, unwilling to tell on one another after injuring a man, Judge Clinton (Charles Trowbridge) decides to send the whole bunch to reform school.

Crime School 1938 Movie Poster
(Image via IMDb)

The school’s warden (Cy Kendall) rules through violence and fear — and it doesn’t take long for new resident Frankie (Billy Halop) to find himself on the warden’s bad side.

When the superintendent of the state’s reformatories (Humphrey Bogart) pays the school a visit, he immediately notices and disagrees with the warden’s practices. Can he change the institution for the better, and improve the lives of its troubled students?

Crime School was directed by Lewis Seiler. The screenplay was written by Crane Wilbur and Vincent Sherman.

Regular readers of TMP may remember that I reviewed a film called Dead End (1937) back in March. Also starring Humphrey Bogart, Dead End marked the debut of the “Dead End Kids” —  the same gang that gets shipped off to reform school in this film.

Bogart’s characters between the two films are entirely different; there, he was a shady gangster, while here, he’s a good-hearted reformer. He still talks like a tough guy, though!

Dead End was directed by William Wyler, and I found it to be nothing short of remarkable — an underrated gem of Wyler’s filmography. The story was, to me, very moving and powerful. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Crime School.

The Dead End Kids are far more obnoxious here than they were in their debut film. Perhaps it’s the lack of Sylvia Sidney, the previous film’s heart-tugging star, to blame… but I found these kids so difficult to care about this time around!

Crime School 1938 Film Still
(Image via TCM)

The film does have some decent scenes of menace and suspense, and it gets more exciting near the end. But because I couldn’t connect with the characters which serve as its focus, Crime School just wasn’t the film for me.

It needed more of Bogie, or more of something. It isn’t a terrible film — just neither here nor there, especially considering the emotional impact of the first film in the series. Unless you’re a completist seeking to watch all of the movies featuring the Dead End Kids, this one is skippable.

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7 thoughts on “Crime School (1938)

  1. And skip it I will! I would watch it for Bogart, but once you mentioned that the Dead End Kids were “far more obnoxious”, I was out. I have a hard time with the antics of those guys anyway, so knowing that they’re even worse here sealed their fate with me. I like the title of the film, though!

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    1. Yeah, great title, not-so-great picture, unfortunately! Bogart is one of my “must watch entire filmography” actors, so I’m glad to have this one out of the way, but I’m also glad to have saved you from watching it, haha.

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      1. The next review I post will feature a movie with a somewhat lame title (which was why I never watched it before now), but the movie itself was awesome. The title? Sorry, I think I’ll leave you in suspense…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve often said that the “Dead End Kids” (later the East Side Kids, later the Bowery Boys) were their generation’s version of the Sex Pistols. The reason they kept changing names and studios is because they were constantly trashing sets, crashing vehicles, starting fights, and generally being worse-behaved off-screen than on. They were, believe me, involved in many worse pictures than this one.

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    1. Haha, interesting comparison — and it sounds like you’re right! I knew they changed names several times but didn’t know it was because they were off-screen terrors. I won’t be seeking out any of the other films, so I’m glad to hear I’m not missing out!

      Liked by 1 person

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