They Made Me a Criminal

They Made Me a Criminal is a 1939 American crime drama film directed by Busby Berkeley and starring John Garfield, Claude Rains, and The Dead End Kids. It is a remake of the film The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933). The film was later featured in an episode of Cinema Insomnia. Portions of the film were shot in the Coachella Valley, California.[1]

They Made Me a Criminal
Theatrical poster
Directed byBusby Berkeley
Produced by
Written by
Music byMax Steiner
CinematographyJames Wong Howe
Edited byJack Killifer
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • January 28, 1939 (1939-01-28)
Running time
92 min.
CountryUnited States


Johnnie Bradfield (John Garfield) is a southpaw world champion boxer falsely accused of murder. He disappears and is presumed dead. The only witnesses who could have exonerated him were his manager and girlfriend, both of whom have died in an automobile accident. Detective Monty Phalen (Claude Rains) believes that Johnnie is still alive and hasn't given up on searching for him. Johnnie, meanwhile, is hiding out on Grandma Rafferty's (May Robson) farm in Arizona. There, he meets up with some juvenile delinquents, Tommy (Billy Halop), Angel (Bobby Jordan), Spit (Leo Gorcey), Dippy (Huntz Hall), T.B. (Gabriel Dell), and Milty (Bernard Punsly), who are under the guardianship of Tommy's sister Peggy (Gloria Dickson).

Johnnie, using the fake name of Jack Dorney, takes Tommy under his wing and encourages him to go in business for himself by buying a gas pump for the farm. He helps the kids raise money by returning to the boxing ring for a match against an up-and-coming boxer. Johnnie sees Phalen arriving at the fight and decides not to fight, disappointing the kids and Peggy. However his determination to help the kids overcomes him and he decides to fight. He tries to hide who he really is by not using his trademark stance in the ring, but not being a good right handed fighter, he is on the verge of losing. Because of this, Johnnie reveals who he really is, although he is still defeated in the fifth round. He surrenders to Phalen, but the detective allows him to remain in Arizona instead of returning to New York.


Main cast

The Dead End Kids

References to other films

When Dippy is operating the shower controls for Jack, who is showering, he serenades him with the song, By a Waterfall, which was a hit song from the director's earlier film, Footlight Parade.


This film also contains the first malapropism of the Dead End Kids/East Side Kids/Bowery Boys series when Jordan says Regenerate, ya dope when Hall used the word degenerate. Malapropisms became a staple of these films, with Gorcey using them on a regular basis throughout the series.

Home media

As this film is in the public domain, there have been several DVD releases from a variety of companies over the years. The Alpha Video DVD was released on July 30, 2002.


  1. Palm Springs Visitors Center. "Coachella Valley Feature Film Production 1920-2011". Filming in Palm Springs. Palm Springs, CA. Archived from the original on October 1, 2012. Retrieved October 1, 2012.Download (Downloadable PDF file)
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