Each Dawn I Die

Each Dawn I Die is a 1939 gangster film featuring James Cagney and George Raft in their only movie together as leads, although Raft had made an unbilled appearance in a 1932 Cagney vehicle called Taxi! in which he won a dance contest against Cagney, after which he and Cagney brawl. Raft also very briefly "appeared" in Cagney's boxing drama Winner Take All (1932), in a flashback sequence culled from Raft's 1929 film debut Queen of the Night Clubs starring Texas Guinan.

Each Dawn I Die
Directed byWilliam Keighley
Produced byDavid Lewis
Hal B. Wallis
Jack L. Warner
Written byWarren Duff
Norman Reilly Raine
Charles Perry (uncredited)
Based onnovel by Jerome Odlum
StarringJames Cagney
George Raft
Jane Bryan
George Bancroft
Music byMax Steiner
CinematographyArthur Edeson
Edited byThomas Richards
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • July 22, 1939 (1939-07-22)
Running time
92 min
Box office$1,570,000[1]

The plotline of Each Dawn I Die involves a crusading reporter (Cagney) who is unjustly thrown in jail and befriends a famous gangster (Raft). George Bancroft portrays the warden. Jane Bryan also co-stars. The movie was a box-office smash and remains a favorite among aficionados of Warner Bros. gangster movies. The film was based on the novel of the same name by Jerome Odlum.

Plot summary

Frank Ross (Cagney) is a crusading reporter for a big-city newspaper on the trail of a crooked district attorney, Jesse Hanley, who is running for election as governor of the state. At the Banton Construction Co., Ross sees Hanley and his accomplice Grayce (Jory) burning books and ledgers to thwart a possible investigation brought about by the paper that Ross works for. His editor Patterson backs Ross in getting Hanley but the D.A. decides to get rid of him, so frames him. Knocked out and covered in whiskey, he is put in a runaway car which collides with another, killing 3 young people and is thrown in prison for one to twenty years on a charge of automotive manslaughter.

He meets a gangster, Stacey (Raft), who, as there is no death penalty in that state, is in for 199 years. They work in the twine-making room together and Stacey falls into Ross's debt when Ross saves him from a knife thrown by another inmate. Ross's reporter friends outside are trying to help him win vindication by finding the real culprits but they are having no success. Stacey agrees to help Ross prove that he was framed if Ross helps him escape from a courthouse. They arrange that Stacey be named by Ross as guilty for killing of Limpy, another inmate and hated stool pigeon.

Ross goes along with the plot, including a promise to tell no one about it, but antagonizes Stacey by tipping off his old newspaper, so that the court room is full of reporters. He escapes by leaping from a window but makes no effort to find the real culprits who were responsible for Ross's predicament. Ross, meanwhile, is implicated in the escape and after being beaten up by brutal guards, spends five months in "the hole" refusing to betray Stacey. This is solitary confinement where prisoners are handcuffed to the bars in the dark and fed bread and water once a day. Ross, who has become a bad character, is promised a chance at parole by the warden (Bancroft) if he reforms, but Hanley has become governor and appointed Grayce to head the parole board. Grayce turns Ross down, meaning he must wait another five years before he can try again for parole.

Stacey is shamed by Ross's reporter girlfriend, Joyce (Jane Bryan), to carry out his promise. He finds the man who "fingered" Ross and gets from him the name of the man who framed him: "Polecat", who just happens to be a jailhouse informant widely disliked in the same prison. Stacey, impressed with Ross being a "square guy," decides to go back to prison to force Polecat to confess. Stacey instigates a prison breakout as part of his plan and orders the prisoners to bring along Polecat. A vicious prison guard is killed and the warden and some of his men held as hostages, but the National Guard have been sent for and block the escape with machine guns, gas and hand grenades. Freed from the hole as part of the escape, Stacey forces Polecat to confess to framing Ross with the warden and his men as witnesses to vindicate Ross. All of the escaping convicts are killed, including the badly wounded Stacey, who forces Polecat to go with him and be killed so that he cannot recant his confession. Governor Hanley and Grayce are indicted for murder and Ross is freed.



The novel was published in 1938.[2] Film rights were bought by Warners who announced it as a vehicle for James Cagney. Edward G. Robinson was discussed as a possible co-star.[3] Robinson was then replaced by John Garfield and Michael Curtiz was going to direct.[4]

Eventually Curtiz was replaced by William Keighley. Fred MacMurray was going to replace Garfield - as the reporter with Cagney to play the gangster. MacMurray became unavailable so Jeffrey Lynn was tested. Eventually George Raft signed to make the movie. He swapped roles so he played the gangster and Cagney played the reporter.[5]


Box Office

The film was one of Warner Bros most popular films in 1939.[6] According to Warner Bros records it earned $1,111,000 domestically and $459,000 foreign.[1]

It led to George Raft being offered a long term contract by Warner Bros.[7]


  1. Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 19 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  2. BEATRICE SHERMANMABEL L ROSSBACHPERCY HUTCHISONEDITH H WALTONFRED T MARSHLOUIS, KRONENBERGERHAROLD STRAUSS. (1938, Apr 17). " In the fine summer weather" and other recent works of fiction. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/102583543
  3. Schallert, E. (1938, May 04). Katharine hepburn, R.-K.-O. part company. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/164881467
  4. Special to The New York Times. (1938, Aug 11). SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/102544676
  5. Special to The New York Times. (1939, Jan 31). SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/102753243
  6. "1939 Hollywood Toppers". Variety. 3 January 1940. p. 28.
  7. Everett Aaker, The Films of George Raft, McFarland & Company, 2013 p 84
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