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Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

Approved | | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir | 26 November 1938 (USA)
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A priest tries to stop a gangster from corrupting a group of street kids.

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(screen play), (screen play) | 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 3 Oscars. Another 1 win. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
...
...
...
The 'Dead End' Kids
Billy Halop ...
Bobby Jordan ...
Swing
...
Bim
Gabriel Dell ...
Pasty
Huntz Hall ...
Crab
Bernard Punsly ...
Hunky (as Bernard Punsley)
Joe Downing ...
Steve
Edward Pawley ...
Edwards
Adrian Morris ...
Blackie
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Storyline

Two boyhood friends, Rocky Sullivan and Jerry Connolly have taken different paths in life. After Rocky is arrested he is sent to a juvenile facility and becomes a lifelong tough guy and criminal. Jerry on the other hand goes straight and becomes a Catholic priest ministering to people in the same neighborhood when he and Rocky grew up. When Rocky is released from prison he resumes his criminal lifestyle and becomes much admired by many of the local kids. Worried that the kids will follow Rocky into the criminal world, Jerry works hard to keep them on the straight and narrow. When Rocky is convicted and sentenced to the electric chair, Jerry asks him for one last favor. Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

A Big Time Cast in a Big City Drama Destined to be the Biggest Hit in Years! See more »


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Approved | See all certifications »

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Details

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Release Date:

26 November 1938 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Battle of City Hall  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

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Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The story was written by Rowland Brown as a project for James Cagney at Grand National Pictures, the independent studio Cagney had signed with in 1936 after winning a breach-of-contract suit against Warner Bros. The original plan had been for Brown to write the full script and direct the film, but when Warners won back Cagney's contract on appeal they bought Brown's story for Cagney but assigned John Wexley and Warren Duff to do the screenplay and Michael Curtiz to direct. See more »

Goofs

During the course of the final shootout, the pattern of broken glass changes. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Jerry, As a Boy: Bulls eye!
William 'Rocky' Sullivan, as a boy: It's as dead as a door nail around here.
Jerry, As a Boy: Yeah.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Calvary (2014) See more »

Soundtracks

From Me to You
(uncredited)
Written by Fabian Andre, Wayne King and Nat Conney
Played from when Bim sinks the 3-ball in the corner to the end of the pool room scene
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
Cagney's First Screen Award Performance
5 June 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The rise and fall of Rocky Sullivan, tough guy gangster but square fellow, was the subject of this excellent film by Warner Brothers in 1938. It has several things going for it that maintains it's high ratings among gangster films and Cagney movies.

For one thing, Cagney's brilliant performance as Rocky won him his first major film award - the 1938 New York Film Critics Award for best actor. It is frequently forgotten that Cagney won this award four years before his Oscar winner in "Yankee Doodle Dandy", but in actuality the performance was the high point of the work he did (up to that time) as a gangster (his performances in "White Heat" and "Love Me Or Leave Me" were way in the future). It drives home how much of a struggle it was for Cagney to get out of the gangster mode, and why his George M. Cohan was such a striking change for his fans.

Secondly it was the sequel (the first sequel) of the Bowery Boy feature films after their introduction in "Dead End". Oddly enough, in that film, Humphrey Bogart was the out and out gangster "Baby Face" Martin, who was the villain in the film. Baby Face enjoyed his following with the gang of boys in that film. Here, though, Bogart was playing a weaselly lawyer named Jim Frazier, who is cowardly - quite a different type from Baby Face, who is angry at the state of his world and how ugly it has become. But Baby Face, at least, had guts.

The Bowery Boys are again a gang of street kids, who Father Jerry Connelly (Pat O'Brien) is trying to keep on the straight and narrow. Here, however, they worship Rocky, the local punk who did rise in the underworld and made a name for himself. But Rocky is Jerry's oldest friend, and he is also willing to help the priest with the boys.

The story deals with how Bogart and his new boss, Mac Keefer (the unjustly forgotten George Bancroft) have gotten control of over 100,000 dollars (1930 style dollars - about twenty million in buying power today), that belongs to Cagney. Cagney wants it back, and when Bogart and Bancroft keep putting him off he uses strong arm methods to force them into line. Eventually things blow up, and Cagney ends up in a gun battle that leaves a dead cop. He is tried and found guilty for this murder, and goes to the death house. This leads to one of the most frightening moments in Cagney's film career - when we see his final moments when being taken to the electric chair to be strapped in. I guarantee once seen you will never forget it.

There are one or two interesting points of a historical nature about Cagney's performance as Rocky. First, that massive gun battle that is shown (where he kills the cop and battles the police department from a building. It actually happened! In about 1931 there was an incident in Manhattan when a young hood, "Two Gun" Crowley, held off police after a homicide in a battle that lasted nearly an entire afternoon. Crowley (like Rocky) was defeated by tear gas. Like Rocky, he too died in the electric chair.

It has been pointed out that Cagney based some of Rocky's mannerisms on a drug addict character he knew in his old Hell's Gate/Yorkville area when he was a kid. Cagney mentions this in his memoir CAGNEY. But there is a curious second source. In his youth, Jimmy Cagney came from a family that struggled but managed to have food on the table and clothes on their back. But some of his playmates were not so lucky. One was a fellow nicknamed "Bootah" (because of the oversize boots he was forced to wear) whose real name was Peter Heslin. Cagney always was friendly with Peter, but their lives drifted apart. On April 5, 1926, Heslin was engaged in an armed robbery when an off-duty police officer, Charles H. Reilly, tried to stop him and was shot and killed. But Heslin (who was also wounded in the encounter) was captured shortly afterward. He was tried and convicted, and finally executed on July 21, 1927. That same night, a star was born on Broadway where Jimmy Cagney made a name for himself as a singer and dancer in the show "Broadway". Cagney was aware of the tragedy playing out with his friend at Sing Sing that night. He mentions Bootah's execution in his memoirs. Newspaper accounts of Heslin's electrocution do not mention anything unusual, but one wonders if (when Cagney was doing the scene) he thought of his unfortunate friend and added a bit more power to those last moments of the film.


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