They Made Me a Criminal may not be considered a film noir by some because of its production date. This film was made in 1939, a year or two before some consider the film noir movement started. This film is based on a book from Bertram Millhauser who maybe more famous for his Sherlock Holmes movies then his noir stories. The film is directed by Busby Berkeley, a director better known for his musicals and comedies then crime films.
I was most interested in watching this because it stared Ann Sheridan, unfortunately even though she is third on the billing she isn’t in the film very long. Claude Rains plays a pivotal role, but isn’t in the film much either. The ‘Dead End’ Kids provide some comedy relief and some fast paced dialog, but this is most definitely a John Garfield film.
What this film lacks in film noir style it more than makes up for in noir story. Garfield plays a champion boxer who has just won a big fight. He tells the press what the public wants to hear. He thanks his Mom, says he doesn’t drink, isn’t a womanizer and comes across as a class act. We soon find Garfield back in his room, drunk with his manager and his best girl played by Sheridan. We find he is nothing like his public persona and is actually the opposite of the way he acts in public. I found this aspect of the film very interesting as we see this with pro athletes to this day. It seems the smart athletes know how to come across as a humble, good person, but we soon learn in their private life they have drug problems, cheat on their beautiful wife, have gambling problems or have even thought they could get away with bigger crimes.
When Sheridan invites her friend up to the room to continue the party, things are said and tempers flair. Sheridan’s friend brings up her date who unknown to our party goers is a reporter. When he says he is taking the information he learned to his paper, Garfield tries to stop him, but is too drunk. His manager hits the reporter over the head with a bottle of liquor before he can leave. This kills the reporter and with Garfield being passed out and the only person in the room when it happens the manager frames him for the murder. The manager and Sheridan escape and soon are chased by the cops and it ends in a fiery wreck killing both of them. Garfield wakes up with a headache and no knowledge of the murder. The police mistakenly think Garfield was in the wreck and the murderer of the reporter. Garfield travels across the country as everybody thinks he is dead. Will it ever be discovered he is really alive? Will he ever be able to return to the ring and his former glory?
This film is a pretty good film with a very noir ending. If you are a Garfield fan you have to see this one. I wish Sheridan was in this a little longer, but she does leave a lasting impression on you in the little time she is in the film. Like I said, some may not consider this a true film noir because of the date of its release. I say we have boxing, a falsely accused man brought down from being on the top of the world to a penniless man who must start over. To watch this man risk it all for people he recently meet, knowing it will be his undoing. Lets not forget the hardboiled cop that nobody likes and you have all the elements of a noir story. I recommend all film noir fans watch this and see for yourself if you would classify this a film noir or not, plus you will get to see a pretty good film no matter what genre you put it in.