45 user 28 critic

They Made Me a Criminal (1939)

Approved | | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir | 28 January 1939 (USA)
A boxer flees believing he has comitted a murder while he was drunk.


Busby Berkeley


Sig Herzig (screen play), Bertram Millhauser (from a novel by) | 1 more credit »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
John Garfield ... Johnnie
The Dead End Kids The Dead End Kids ... (as The 'Dead End' Kids)
Claude Rains ... Detective Phelan
Ann Sheridan ... Goldie
May Robson ... Grandma
Gloria Dickson ... Peggy
Billy Halop ... Tommy
Bobby Jordan ... Angel
Leo Gorcey ... Spit
Huntz Hall ... Dippy
Gabriel Dell ... T.B.
Bernard Punsly ... Milt (as Bernard Punsley)
Robert Gleckler ... Doc Ward
John Ridgely ... Magee
Barbara Pepper ... Budgie


Johnnie is a boxer. The same evening he won the world championship, he is charged for the murder of a reporter and is taken for dead. Running away from New York, he ends up in a ranch in Arizona, run by an old lady as a work farm for delinquent teenagers. He falls in love with Peggy and became the teenagers' hero. But there is that New York Detective, Phelan, that does not believe he is dead and is chasing him... An unlikely scenario, but not a so bad film. Written by Yepok

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Sensational Human Drama! See more »


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Release Date:

28 January 1939 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

I Became a Criminal See more »

Filming Locations:

Palm Desert, California, USA See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Director Busby Berkeley first made a name for himself with musical spectaculars like Footlight Parade (1933), Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) and 42nd Street (1933). He persuaded Warner Brothers executives to let him do a dramatic picture, and they assigned him to this film. He didn't shed his musical association entirely, however; the film contains an "in-joke". When "Dippy" (Huntz Hall) operates the controls of a makeshift shower, he serenades the bathing "Jack/Johnnie" with "By The Waterfall", a song from Berkeley's hit "Footlight Parade". See more »


When Johnny tells his manager to "Give me another drink", the manager is on Johnny's left (screen right). The next shot shows Johnny pouring the drink with his manager now on his right (screen left). See more »


Speed: She took eight gallons. That's a dollar twenty-eight.
See more »

Alternate Versions

The AFI Catalogue has a different cast ordering, suggesting that changes were made for a re-release. Ann Sheridan is billed 6th and there are other minor changes when compared with the print currently shown on Turner Classic Movies, on which the data in IMDb is based. It is uncertain which is the original print. See more »


Referenced in The Andrew Klavan Show: Democrats Play Women (2018) See more »


The Whip
(1908) (uncredited)
Music by Abe Holzmann
Played at Legion Stadium before the fights
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Don't Make The Same Mistake Twice
20 December 2004 | by sol1218See all my reviews

***SPOILERS*** Even though the movie "They Made Me A Criminal" is nowhere as good as the later John Garfield anti-hero classics like "Body & Soul" in 1947 "Force of Evil" in 1948 and his last and very underrated "He Ran All The Way" in 1951 it's the film that defined his career from that point onward until his untimely death on May 21, 1952 at the young age of 39.

Garfiled plays the part of light Weight Champion Johnnie Bradfield and later the fugitive from the law Jack Dorney who's innocent of the murder that he's charged with, even though he's been declared officially dead. Jonnie's manager Doc Ward, Robert "Doc" Gleckler, who during a drunken victory party killed reporter Charles McGee,John Ridgely, who was going to expose to the public his fighter Johnnie Bradfield lies about him being a one women guy as well as non drinking momma's boy. Doc Gleckler smashed a bottle over McGee's head killing him as Jonnie was almost dead drunk with a number of women partying in his hotel suite.

Doc was later killed in a car crash with Johnnie's girlfriend Goldie, Ann Sheridan, but Doc burned to a crisp and with Johnnie's watch on him was mistaken for Johnnie. Told to stay dead and buried by his lawyer Malvin ,Robert Strange, who took $9,750.00 of the $10,000.00 of Johnnie's money that he had for this great piece of advice. Malvin told Johnnie to take on a new identity and call himself from now on Jack Dorney and get the hell out of the state of New York; talking about sleazy shysters. Johnnie now Jack Dorney travels the rails from New York down to Arizona ending up at the Rancho Rafferty Date Farm where most of the film takes place.

If it wasn't for John Garfield in the lead role as both Jonnie Bradfield & Jack Dorney the movie would have long been lost and forgotten. Garfield who was only 26 at the time brought the best out of everyone in the movie. Even the transported Dead End Kids, I guess we can call them The Arizona Kids here, acting were notches above what you would have expected from them and they came across as real and sensitive persons not a bunch of slap stick clowns like in almost all of their movies. All that due to being on the same stage, or filming location, with John Garfield.

"They Made Me a Criminal" is a good story that has the undercover champ acting like anything but not to draw any attention on himself and end up not only behind bars but in the electric chair. In the end Jack showed just what kind of man he is by not fighting the big fight and against all the odds dramatically winning at the last moment but by going four brutal rounds to get the money for his new found family at the date farm including his girl Peggy, Gloria Dickson, to open up a gas station with it.

Giving the European champ Gaspar Rutchek, Frank Riggi, the fight of his life and getting $2,000.00, thats $500.00 a round, for doing it Jack showed everyone who looked up to him like the "Arizona Kids" that sometimes taking a punch is far braver and more courageous then throwing one.The fact that Jack could have easily clobbered Rutched but didn't in order not to expose himself to the police, as on the loose killer Johnnie Bradfield. But instead went as far as he could taking everything that Rutchek could throw at him to help out his friends showed more then all the fights that he won in the boxing ring put together.

I for one didn't find the ending of the movie contrived at all but fitting right in with the story. The cop Morty Phelam, Claude Rains, who came to Arizona from New York to arrest Jack had to live with for years the fact that he once sent an innocent man to the electric chair. We were told all this right at the start of the movie. Why knowing that Jack/Johnnie was innocent of the murder that he's charged with and not knowing for sure if he'll be found innocent of it in a court of law would he want to make the same terrible mistake again? I can easily see this happening in real life why not then in the movies.

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