After winning a championship fight, boxer John Garfield (as Johnnie Bradfield) celebrates with a drinking binge, which leads to the manslaughter of a pushy reporter. Although his manager killed the man, Mr. Garfield is blamed. When the manager dies in a car crash, wearing Garfield's stolen watch, authorities think the boxer is dead. Still a WANTED man, Garfield changes his identity to "Jack Dorney" and moves to an Arizona ranch. There, Garfield meets "The Dead End Kids": Billy Halop (as Tommy), Bobby Jordan (as Angel), Leo Gorcey (as Spit), Huntz Hall (as Dippy), Gabriel Dell (as T.B.), and Bernard Punsly (as Milt).
Garfield bonds with the young "Dead End" lads, who were sent to stay with sweet "Grandma Rafferty" (May Robson) as an alternative to reform school, courtesy of her brother, deceased priest "Father Rafferty". Garfield falls in love with Halop's sister, pretty "Peggy" (Gloria Dickson), who is there to keep any eye on the kids. Of course, Garfield's past comes back to haunt him
John Garfield and The 'Dead End' Kids make beautiful (Max Steiner) music together, thanks to effective direction and photography, by Busby Berkeley and James Wong Howe. The story is predictably comfortable, with the Warner Brothers support team in fine form. Garfield and the "Dead End" kids are a winning combination; although Garfield made no further movies with the "East Side" gang, the studio had him re-team with both Billy Halop and Bobby Jordan, almost immediately, for "Dust Be My Destiny".
The boxing scenes are nicely staged. But, the most exciting sequence has Garfield and four of the New York "Kids" (Halop, Jordan, Hall, and Punsly) climbing into a giant water tank for a swim - which unexpectedly puts their lives in danger. Other, more brief, highlights include floozy Ann Sheridan (as Goldie), boozy Barbara Pepper (as Budgie), and young Ronald Sinclair (as Douglas) losing at strip poker.
******** They Made Me a Criminal (1/21/39) Busby Berkeley ~ John Garfield, Billy Halop, Bobby Jordan, Claude Rains