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Film / Each Dawn I Die

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Each Dawn I Die is a 1939 crime film directed by William Keighley.

James Cagney stars as Frank Ross, an Intrepid Reporter. Frank is hard on the heels of one Jesse Hanley, the District Attorney and candidate for governor, and also a thoroughly corrupt crook. When Frank catches some of Hanley's goons burning incriminating documents, Hanley's organization decides that Frank has to be dealt with.

So they frame Ross for drunk driving by knocking him on the head, tossing him in a car, shattering a bottle of liquor in said car, putting said car in gear, and sending it off down a city street. It works even better than they'd hoped when the resulting wreck kills three people and Ross is sent to prison to serve 1-20 years for vehicular manslaughter.

Ross's newspaper buddies work on freeing him, but to no avail. Meanwhile, in jail, Ross makes the acquaintance of a criminal named Stacey (George Raft). After Ross does Stacey a favor, Stacey comes to him with an unusual proposition. If Ross will help Stacey escape from prison, Stacey, who has a lot of connections in the underworld, will find the men who framed Ross.


  • Calling Me a Logarithm: Ross has a very low opinion of the prison doctor.
    Ross: The only thing that pill-pusher can diagnose is rigor mortis!
    Red: Sounds bad. Is it catching?
  • Captured on Purpose: Stacey, feeling guilty about his failure to help Ross, finally makes inquiries. He discovers that the hood who set Ross up is in fact "Polecat", a notorious snitch who is actually in the prison with Ross at that moment. So Stacey turns himself in, in order to get to Ross.
  • Celebrity Paradox: The prisoners get to watch a Warner Brothers film called Wings Of The Navy, which featured George Brent, Olivia de Havilland, and Victor Jory. Jory appears in this film as Grayce, Hanley's henchman.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: The car that Ross crashes into tips over and catches fire.
  • Exploding Calendar: Days fly off a calendar to mark the last thirty days of Ross's confinement in solitary, aka "the hole".
  • Frame-Up: Ross is framed for drunk driving in order to ruin him. When three people are killed as a result, he winds up going to jail.
  • Great Escape: Stacey returns to jail, with the bright idea that he will break out again later. True to how this trope usually works out, the prison break is foiled and devolves into a bloody riot and siege.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: It is implied that Mueller, the crusty old con, and Lassiter, the younger, handsome embezzler, are lovers. Mueller has to be restrained by his buddies when Lang the brutal guard kills Lassiter, and afterwards he's weeping over Lassiter's death. Later, Mueller is bent on revenge. When it comes time for the climactic jailbreak Mueller makes a special point of spitting on Lang before murdering him for what Lang did to Mueller's "pal".
  • Intrepid Reporter: Ross, who fearlessly pursues the Hanley story. He's such an intrepid reporter that, when he makes the deal with Stacey, he tells his colleagues at the newspaper to be there for the start of Stacey's trial. This winds up biting him in the butt, as the warden rightly concludes that Ross was part of the plot and throws him in solitary, while a pissed-off Stacey holds this against Ross and makes no effort to deliver on his part of the deal.
  • Manly Tears: Ross's enraged defiance of the parole board, headed by the crooked Grace, instantly turns to hysterical sobbing as he breaks down and begs them not to send him back to jail.
  • Plot Hole: The Happy Ending and Ross's release from prison come after Polecat's confession. The confession, that is, which was gotten out of Polecat under duress, with Stacey pointing a gun at his forehead. Also, he never even gave the confession in court, because immediately afterwards Stacey drags Polecat out of the cell block and into the open where they are both shot dead by the National Guard. Somehow, though, the warden's secondhand hearsay testimony is enough to both spring Ross from jail and put Hanley and Grace in jail.
  • Police Brutality: Prison Guard Brutality. Lang, a 1930s Byron Hadley, is vicious and cruel towards the inmates and has no problem with beating Ross in order to get a confession out of him. When Lassiter is too sick for work Ross beats him instead of sending him to the infirmary, and accidentally kills him.
  • Prison Riot: Stacey's attempt at a mass breakout is foiled when the National Guard is called in. A bloody riot ensues before the Guard storms the prison and kills most all of the prisoners, except for Ross who was with the warden, and Red whom Ross had handcuffed back in the factory room to save his life.
  • Prisoner's Work: The prisoners work in a factory where they spin fiber into twine. Surprisingly, they are allowed access to huge, sharp grappling hooks, and even more surprisingly, the hooks do not play a part in their jail break.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Armstrong, the warden. He may have strict rules in his prison, but unlike Lang, he's willing to listen to reason and he isn't a sadist.
  • Sinister Shiv: "Limpy" the jailhouse snitch meets his end via a shiv flung into his back. A newspaper article detailing the murder of the inmate goes as far as to report that the weapon was fashioned from a file. Later a shiv is used to jam open a door. For some reason all the shivs look to be constructed in the same manner.
  • Spiteful Spit: Mueller spits on Lang the brutal prison guard, before beating him to death.
  • Time-Passes Montage: The words "hours", "days", and "weeks" pass by the screen as Stacey languishes in solitary confinement.