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.