Each Dawn I Die appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though the transfer occasionally showed its age, the movie usually looked quite good.
Only a few minor problems affected sharpness. I noticed occasional signs of softness in some wide shots. Those remained infrequent, though, as the flick mostly demonstrated nice delineation and accuracy. I witnessed no signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and only a little light edge enhancement occurred.
Blacks were deep and firm, while shadows came across as smooth and concise. The movie offered nice contrast from start to finish. It also suffered from only a few examples of source flaws. At times I thought the movie was a bit grainy, and some instances of spots, blotches and lines occurred. However, these were pretty minor given the movie’s age, as most of the flick seemed pretty clean. Overall, this worked as a solid transfer.
The monaural soundtrack of Each Dawn I Die also appeared perfectly fine for an old movie like this. Speech was a little brittle but always remained concise and intelligible. Though effects lacked heft, they seemed clean and acceptably accurate. Music was also thin but clear. I don’t expect great range or definition from a 67-year-old flick, so I didn’t take the tinny nature of the track as a disappointment. Some hiss came along with the mix, but no other background noise distracted me. This was a more than adequate track for an ancient flick.
Next we go to the DVD’s extras. These open with an audio commentary from film historian Haden Guest, who provides a running, screen-specific discussion. He talks about story and thematic issues, James Cagney’s problems at Warner Bros. and how this movie fits in his career, cast and characters, filmmaking choices, the prison film genre, cuts from the original script, other actors considered for the roles, and censorship concerns.
Guest focuses more on interpretation than he does nuts and bolts issues. I admit I’d prefer a track that better balances the two areas. That said, Guest brings us a consistently interesting discussion. He digs into the flick with gusto and provides a list of good insights. I can’t complain too much about this involving piece.
A creative and fun addition to the set, Warner Night at the Movies attempts to replicate the cinematic experience circa 1939. This feature starts with a preview for Wings of the Navy. We also get a period newsreel, an animated short called Detouring America and a documentary short entitled A Day at Santa Anita. These are the kinds of pieces that might have preceded a theatrical showing of Dawn, so if you activate this feature, you get an attempt to duplicate a night at the cinema. I like this program and think it’s quite clever.
Next comes a new featurette called Stool Pigeons and Pine Overcoats: The Language of Gangster Films. This 20-minute and 55-second piece features movie clips and interviews. We discover notes from Guest, film historians Drew Casper, Lincoln D. Hurst, Rick Jewell, Patricia King Hanson, Eric Lax, Vivian Sobchack, screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, producer Robert Evans, writer/director Frank Miller, directors Lili Fini Zanuck, Martin Scorsese and Larry Cohen, and actors Talia Shire, Theresa Russell, and Michael Madsen.
As implied by the title, we learn about the dialogue used in gangster flicks. The show covers how James Cagney helped solidify the “talkies”, roots of the genre’s dialogue and examples of famous lines. We also get societal implications of the language. This doesn’t prove to be a particularly scholarly examination of its subject, but it manages to become fairly interesting. It elaborates on the gangster era and its language to a moderately satisfying degree, though it doesn’t excel.
A “bonus cartoon” pops up after this. We find 1948’s Each Dawn I Crow . The short has virtually nothing to do with the feature film other than its title. It shows a rooster who worries that Farmer Elmer Fudd will kill and eat him. It’s a decent though predictable cartoon.
For an “audio-only” feature, we discover a 3/22/1943 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast. For this version of Dawn, George Raft reprises his role of Stacey while Franchot Tone takes over the Ross part from Cagney. The show runs a total of 57 minutes and 49 seconds. It offers a fairly succinct reenactment of the movie. It doesn’t lose too much material as it reworks the flick. Unfortunately, Tone is a lousy replacement for Cagney. He sleepwalks through the program and never brings any bite to his character. I always appreciate the inclusion of these shows even when I don’t like them; they’re cool historical additions. Just don’t expect this one to be especially memorable.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we find Breakdowns of 1939. This 14-minute and 34-second blooper reel works just like modern ones, but the presence of famous faces like Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson makes it more fun than usual. Heck, we even get profanity from Porky Pig!
Each Dawn I Die flits from one topic to another without much coherence. The flick has some good moments but lacks enough focus to succeed. The DVD offers pretty solid picture and audio along with a nice collection of supplements. I wasn’t wild about the movie, but I can’t find too many problems with this quality release.
Note that you can buy Each Dawn I Die alone or as part of a six-movie “Tough Guys Collection”. The latter packages Dawn with San Quentin, Bullets or Ballots, A Slight Case of Murder, ”G” Men, and City for Conquest. This set is a steal for folks who want to own the various movies. It retails for about $60, which equals the list price of three of the DVDs separately. It’s like a “buy three, get three free” deal and is a real bargain.