They Made Me a Criminal (1939): Busby Berkeley’s Crime Drama, Starring John Garfield, Claude Rains, Dead End Kids

Busby Berkeley directed They Made Me a Criminal, a crime drama starring John Garfield, Claude Rains, and The Dead End Kids.

They Made Me a Criminal
Poster - They Made Me a Criminal 01.jpg

Theatrical poster

In this remake of the 1933 film The Life of Jimmy Dolan, John Garfield plays Johnnie Bradfield, a southpaw world champion boxer who’s 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 had died in a car accident.

Detective Monty Phalen (Claude Rains) believes that Johnnie is still alive and thus 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 guardianship of Tommy’s sister Peggy (Gloria Dickson).

Using the fake name of Jack Dorney, Johnny takes Tommy under his wing and encourages him to go into business by buying a gas pump for the farm. He helps the kids raise money by returning to the boxing ring

When Johnny sees Phalen arriving at the fight, he decides not to fight, which disappoints 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.  However, not being a good right handed fighter, he almost loses, which forces him to reveal who he really is.

In the end, Johnnie  surrenders to Phelan, but the detective allows him to remain in Arizona.


John Garfield as Johnnie Bradfield
Claude Rains as Det. Monty Phelan
Ann Sheridan as Goldie West
May Robson as Grandma Rafferty
Gloria Dickson as Peggy
Ward Bond as Lenihan
William B. Davidson as the Chief of Detectives
Robert Gleckler as Doc Ward
The Dead End Kids
Billy Halop as Tommy
Bobby Jordan as Angel
Leo Gorcey as Spit
Gabriel Dell as T.B.
Huntz Hall as Dippy
Bernard Punsley as Milt

They Made Me a Criminal
Poster - They Made Me a Criminal 01.jpg

Theatrical poster


Directed by Busby Berkeley
Produced by Benjamin Glazer, Hal B. Wallis
Written by Sig Herzig, Bertram Millhauser (uncredited), Beulah Marie Dix (uncredited)
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Edited by Jack Killifer
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date: January 28, 1939
Running time: 92 min.