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Hell's Kitchen

Hell's Kitchen(1939)

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teaser Hell's Kitchen (1939)

Hell's Kitchen (1939) is the first of two Warner Bros. films in which the 40th president of the United States acted opposite the Dead End Kids. Ronald Reagan's other film with the Kids (also variously known as the Little Tough Guys, East Side Kids and the Bowery Boys) was Angels Wash Their Faces (also 1939).

Reagan later commented that, having heard "lurid tales from other actors" who had worked with the rowdy little mischief-makers, he approached his first movie with the Kids "in something of a sweat." James Cagney, who had not only acted with the Kids but hailed from the same tough New York area where most of them grew up, had this advice for Reagan: "Just tell them you look forward to working with them but you'll slap hell out of them if they do one thing out of line."

Although Reagan found Cagney's advice effective to a point, it didn't entirely save him from the Kids' abrasive pranks. Reagan was quoted as saying that filming with the boys was "an experience similar to going over Niagara Falls the hard way -- upstream. Counting noses and getting them all in one scene was a major chore, but sometimes it was a relief when they did take off and disappear for a few hours. You never knew when a canvas chair would go up in smoke or be blown apart by the giant firecrackers they were never without." One account has it that, during filming, the Kids placed a burning hat atop Reagan's head.

Hell's Kitchen has the Kids confined in the Hudson Shelter, a "Boys' Town"-type alternative to reform school where inmates form a democracy to govern themselves with the aid of social workers played by Reagan and Margaret Lindsay. Grant Mitchell, as the shelter's unscrupulous supervisor, has other ideas, treating the inmates so brutally that one of them (Bobby Jordan) dies after being locked in "the cooler" as punishment. This leads to a revolt, with the Dead End Kids at the center of the melodramatic action. The gang includes Billy Halop, Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Gabriel Dell, Bernard Punsley and Frankie Burke, who had played James Cagney as a boy in Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) and retained an amazing likeness to the star as he grew older.

Hell's Kitchen was produced by Mark Hellinger, a New York journalist and screenwriter known for his street-savvy style, and Bryan Foy, a son of entertainer Eddie Foy and one of the "Seven Little Foys." Foy, because of his long association with "B" movies, earned the nickname "Keeper of the Bees." The film had two directors, Ewald Andre Dupont and Lewis Seiler. David Hayes and Brent Walker, authors of The Films of the Bowery Boys, consider that this may have led to the movie's slightly schizoid quality as it switches from earthy humor to social commentary.

Producers: Bryan Foy, Mark Hellinger
Directors: E.A. Dupont, Lewis Seiler
Screenplay: Fred Niblo, Jr., Crane Wilbur (from story by Wilbur)
Cinematography: Charles Rosher
Production Design: Hugh Reticker
Original Music: Ray Heindorf, Heinz Roemheld
Editing: Clarence Kolster
Costume Design: Milo Anderson
Principal Cast: Billy Halop (Tony Marco), Bobby Jordan (Joey Richards), Leo Gorcey (Gyp Haller), Huntz Hall (Bingo), Gabriel Dell (Ace), Bernard Punsly (Ouch/Patrick Henry Rosenbloom), Margaret Lindsay (Beth Avery), Ronald Reagan (Jim Donohue), Stanley Fields (Buck Caesar), Frankie Burke (Soap), Grant Mitchell (Hiram Krispin).

by Roger Fristoe

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