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Angels with Dirty Faces
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9 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Cagney vs. The Dead End Kids!

Author: Spuzzlightyear from Vancouver
5 November 2005

One of the greatest films of Cagney's film career, and the film that unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your gag reflexes) introduced us to the Dead End Kids! James Cagney is a career criminal, who, immediately after getting out of the clink, meets up with his former partner in crime (Pat O'Brien!), who of course is a priest now and loathes the life Cagney leads. Cagney is also preoccupied with a bunch of no-good kids who of course idolize him. Seeing this, O'Brien thinks Cagney should lead the kids to good. But Cagney is too busy getting even with his old business cronies (Humphrey Bogart!).

This film is a lot fun, most especially watching Bogey and Cagney on the screen together. For those rather uninitiated with the career of Bogart (eg, just seen Casablanca and the Sam Spade movies), this film may come as a revelation to you, as he plays a cretinous heel here. And Cagney? Ahhh, what's not to like? He's flawless here, (well, except his curious gun usage). As for the Dead End Kids, I liked them here, rather interesting that Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall almost are in the background here, with their leadership of the group not yet realized.

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4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Angels or Evils?

Author: esteban hernandez from Italy
1 May 2005

This is one of my favorite classics, with extraordinary acting of James Cagney, one of the best actors starring crime films, and his friend, Pat O'Brien, who once again played the role of a priest. In fact, O'Brien in his real life studied to become a priest, but later he quit for becoming an actor. The seed of criminality is here well shown, but not its causes. Why are these children finally criminals? It was not the intention of the director Michael Curtiz to go deeply into the problem, instead he treated it religiously. Men are products of the society where they live, obviously, some escape from bad examples while others continue to be spoiled for the whole life. Rocky Sullivan (Cagney) was the case, a spoiled child with some principles of friendship only, and hard with his enemies. His best friend (o'Brien) hopefully became a priest and took the life differently, trying to help and improve the behavior of the children in the community where he lives. Why one went in one way different to the other? this is not suggested in the film. We have only the facts and then you must figure out the reasons of such behaviors. Interesting film, anyway, with good acting of Humphrey Bogart too, who was a perfect actor for playing the roles of the villains, and always nice Ann Sheridan did it well too.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

"All right, fellas... let's go and say a prayer for a boy who couldn't run as fast as I could."

Author: ackstasis from Australia
28 October 2007

'Angels with Dirty Faces,' one of a string of gangster/crime pictures that frequented Hollywood throughout the 1930s {'Little Caesar (1931);' 'The Public Enemy (1931);' 'Scarface (1932);' 'The Petrified Forest (1936)'}, was a film that I really only watched to see Humphrey Bogart playing a bad guy, as happened often in the years before 'The Maltese Falcon (1941)' made him a star. However, it was the performance of Mr. James Cagney – of whom I'd often heard, but never seen on screen – that truly inspired my admiration, delivering surely one of the most memorable displays of acting I'd ever seen. I know that it's an old cliché in film criticism, but this wasn't simply an actor playing a role; Cagney completed inhabited the character of Rocky Sullivan, slipping so painlessly into the role that you'd think Sullivan was a real criminal merely playing himself. Cagney's defiantly-upright posture, dryly-amused facial expressions, his quirky mannerisms {including his character's trademark greeting of "Whaddya hear? Whaddya say?"} project a lifetime of power, corruption and frustration; Sullivan's wily toughness has been chiseled by years of crime and incarceration, of his constant exposure to men just as dangerous as himself. He is truly a formidable figure, and Cagney flawlessly captures the many layers of his fascinating character, in a role for which he earned the first of his three Oscar nominations.

'Angels with Dirty Faces' was directed by Michael Curtiz, most famous nowadays for 'Casablanca (1942),' but his list of great films is extensive, as I'm now beginning to discover. The film is a thickly-layered crime film, slick and action-packed with a hint of social commentary. It deals with a popular theme of 1930s crime films, of two childhood friends who, in later life, ended up on opposite sides of the law. Rocky Sullivan (Frankie Burke as a youth, James Cagney as an adult) and Jerry Connolly (William Tracy as a youth, Pat O'Brien as an adult) were the best of friends, passing their adolescent years through dabbling in minor theft. After they are discovered raiding a railway car, Jerry manages to flee the policemen's grasp, but Rocky is apprehended; this seemingly trivial event {Rocky being unable to run quite as fast as Jerry} is the crucial moment when the two boys' paths violently diverged, and their lives would never be the same again. After spending years in a rehabilitation centre for juvenile delinquents, Rocky becomes immersed in a life of crime, while his old friend heads towards the Church, from which he tries to prevent the next generation from going astray.

As I mentioned earlier, Cagney leads a dynamite cast of intriguing characters. Humphrey Bogart excels as James Frazier, a weaselly lawyer who decides to have Rocky whacked rather than pay him the $100,000 in misbegotten money that he owes him; George Bancroft plays his associate in crime. The "Dead End" Kids from William Wylers 'Dead End (1937)', headed by Soapy (Billy Halop), are a gang of youths who idolise Rocky's life of crime so reverentially that they are almost certain to follow in his pitiful footsteps. Pretty Laury Ferguson (Ann Sheridan), a girl from Rocky's childhood, isn't given particularly much to do in the film, but is rather the perfect embodiment of innocence, a stark contrast with our main character's dirty criminal past. Pat O'Brien {who starred in countless films alongside Cagney throughout the decade} is adequate as the good-willed anti-crime crusader, but his priest character just isn't really all that interesting, somewhat bland alongside a hot-heated dynamo like Rocky Sullivan. Praise must also go to young Frankie Burke, who plays Rocky as a child, and who imitated Cagney's tone and mannerisms so perfectly that I wondered for a second if that was Cagney himself somehow playing a teenager.

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Classic Melodrama That's Not For Cynics

Author: Theo Robertson from Isle Of Bute, Scotland
15 January 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If you ever take a film class about gangster films you'll soon learn that it's a genre " Catholic " in outlook in much the same way as the western is " Protestant " . Once you analysis the gangster genre you'll find that there's almost a formulaic lay out of themes of a fatherless outsider trying to become part of the American dream via illegal means . ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES is slightly different in that the characters are Amercan born and it's the street gang of juvenile delinquents who are in need of the father figure and the film rests on whether Father Jerry Connolly or Rocky Sullivan becomes that father figure

I'm feeling slightly ashamed of myself for saying this but I liked this movie a lot , and the reasons I liked it is down to the reasons that I shouldn't . There's hardly a single scene that rings of any type of realism . Cagney was a Hollywood star but he was never an actor . There is something compelling about his performances however and he dominates every scene he is in . I can certainly understand why some people don't like his acting style but it's a style that suits the film perfectly that lacks any type of verisimilitude . None of it rings true but there's something that keeps you watching even though there's a voice inside your head saying " What a load of melodramatic Hollywood tosh "

Your opinion of the film lies with what you thought about the golden age of Hollywood . This was a period of American film making where producers were under heavy censure via The Hays Code where any type of immorality must be seen to be punished on screen and this suits a film like ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES wonderfully . Rocky is a bad man but a hero to the teenage street gang , he must not be allowed to be a hero to criminal youth and so must face death as a coward . On paper this appears to be the cheesiest ending ever seen in a movie but as it plays out on screen it's one the most beautiful and memorable endings Hollywood has ever produced . Michael Curtiz directs this scene via suggestion and is all the better for it

If you're a fan of Old Hollywood then you'll enjoy this . Even a self confessed cynic like myself found this movie compelling . You have to be slightly forgiving for some of the more melodramatic aspects but in some ways that's part of the movie's appeal

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A Rocky Story for the Rocky Life

Author: ironhorse_iv from United States
8 October 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Angels with dirty face is a 1930's Warner Bros gangster film that stars James Cagney as Rocky Sullivan and Pat O'Brien as Jerry Connelly. As the film's opens, young teenager Rocky and Jerry are trouble makers—it wasn't until young Rocky is catch by the police that we see the two characters change. Rocky is sent to reform school. In a montage of images, Rocky graduates to prison as he pursues a life of crime including bootlegging, manslaughter, gambling, and violent gang rivalry. Mobster Rocky is sent to prison to serve another three years for a crime he has committed with crooked attorney James Frazier (Humphrey Bogart). He is promised by Frazier that when he is discharged after taking the rap, he will be paid $100,000 from the crooked heist the two had pulled. As adults, Rocky embraces a life of crime, whereas Jerry, who had witnessed Rocky's fate, becomes a priest assigned to his old home parish. When discharged, Rocky returns to his former neighborhood, and visits the church where Father Jerry serves as parish priest and where they had been altar boys together twenty years earlier. Jerry faces the challenges of teaching and working with tough, gutter-bred neighborhood boys call the "Dead End" kids, trying to make them decent citizens. Dead End Kids are based and a continue sage of the 1935 play and the film Dead End (1937)). It's become hard for Jerry, because of his criminal exploits, the boys idolize him and regard him with almost fanatical hero worship when he shares his criminal exploits and experiences. The priest is unsuccessful in retrieving the neighborhood kids from emulating their gangster hero. Jerry wants Rocky to behave in a way so that the neighborhood kids will not admire him and revere him as a role model or martyr, following in his misguided footsteps. Jerry asks that Rocky make a really heroic action and show a special kind of courage. George Bancroft (Mac Keefer) also comes in the story, playing an influential politician and rackets boss that Rocky works under his new job. In the course of the movie, we are left to ask if Rocky is willing to reform or continue with his criminal past life… this come in light with his relationship with the kids. Jerry and an old flame play by Ann Sheridan. In one of the most tautly directed, unforgettable, harrowing sequences of any film in the 1930s, Rocky is force to make a choice. The scene is bathed in dark suggestive, oppressive shadows, and the musical score (by Max Steiner) resembles a plodding, relentless march to what his life really means. It is unclear whether or not his true nature or motives are revealed - is he pretending or not. It's up to you as the viewer to decision. Cagney is great as the swaggering, pugnacious career criminal Rocky. Cagney is brilliant. The facial expression of James Cagney. His face is intense and penetrating! Pat O'Brien plays best as a mild-mannered, forceful, sincere and compassionate priest. This is perfect in every way, very finely executed. What a classic film this is!

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Just short of perfect, and layered up with surprises in the usual gangster plot

Author: secondtake from United States
30 January 2010

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

Just a couple years before Casablanca, this is another of director Michael Curtiz's startling, well filmed, intelligent action movies, this one also for Warner Brothers. And Bogart is a key secondary figure here, somewhat tame compared to the usual intensity of James Cagney, who again plays a gangster to perfection. The odd second layer here sometimes threatens to tilt to moralizing, even with the roughness of the church kids, as the priest weighs in on certain scenes. But the two elements--good and evil, basically--not only contrast, but they overlap, and the confusion of who is doing the most good and why is part of the bigger ethical fiber of the plot.

Maybe it's because of these moments where Cagney's gangster role is softened by interacting with the priest that we see less direct, raw acting, the scary thing that he can pull of so well. But he's still utterly convincing, and the ending is chilling no matter how you read it. If you, like me, like a film to go beyond a simple do crime and get caught kind of scenario, this is a great one. The great Sol Polito is cinematographer, and it shows, in every single scene, whether the fascinating street shots (packed with activity) or the shadowing alley and basement shots (composed for drama and depth). And the music, relatively invisible, by Max Steiner is of course flawless.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:


Author: Corr28 from United States
11 May 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A memorable, amazing gangster film with a social message featuring a blistering performance by the one and only James Cagney. JC plays notorious gangster Rocky Sullivan who comes back to his old neighborhood and a reunion with his old pal Jerry Connelly. Time has a strange way of changing things, you see, Sullivan and Connelly were boyhood pals from the wrong side of the tracks. Sullivan spent time in a reformatory only to emerge the hardened criminal that he is. Connelly, spared time in the reformatory because he could run faster then Rocky and got away, is now a priest trying to keep the youth from his neighborhood out of trouble. Father Connelly is working hard on a group of youngsters, the Dead End Kids, who are already headed in the wrong direction. Things become complicated when Rocky arrives as the youngsters idolize the gangster and begin to really show signs of an impending criminal life. Rocky's own problems mount, including being ripped off by his lawyer James Frazier played by Humphrey Bogart. Rocky tries to remedy his situation but his cohorts are planning to rub out Father Connelly who's one man crusade to wipe out the criminal element is going too far. Rocky will have no part of it and resorts to murder to prevent his friend from being killed. Unfortunately, Rocky is caught and is sentenced to die in the electric chair setting up one of the most memorable conclusions in film history.

This is a completely absorbing, emotional film with standout performances from everyone. Besides Cagney, Pat O'Brien as Father Connelly gives what is perhaps his finest performance. The support from Bogart, the Dead End Kids and Ann Sheridan are all top notch. Many unforgettable scenes abound, namely Cagney's unorthodox "refereeing" at a basketball game and the aforementioned conclusion which still haunts me to this day. Director Michael Curtiz does an amazing job. His camera is almost in constant movement with fluid passes and turns and his brilliant use of light, darkness and shadow is amazing to watch. I just can't say enough about this film, one of the finest gangster epics to ever grace the big screen. It's very easy to see why Cagney was nominated for an Academy Award in this one.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A different but wonderful addition to Warner's gangster films

Author: movieman430 from United States
8 September 2007

This movie is a surprisingly emotional gangster film that shows Cagney at the top of his game. Made in 1938, when gangster movies became legit again, the movie features two legends of the genre (Cagney and Bogart) as well as Pat O'Brien and Ann Sheridan both playing their parts wonderfully. The film is unlike most of Cagney's gangster pictures, firstly because he's not the antagonist, but it also seems to have a more benevolent agenda. Instead of concentrating of Cagney's dealings with Humphrey Bogart, it centers on his relationship with the priest, his childhood friend (O'Brien) and his relationship with the "Dead End" Kids. Not as violent as some of the other Warner Brother pictures, Angels With Dirty Faces centers more on the human drama than the violence. It does however have the thrilling collision of Cagney and Bogart as well as the factory shoot out. the cinematography and lighting is very well done and the look of the film doesn't feel tired. What sells the film is of course the ending sequence with Cagney and the electric chair, one of the most powerful moments of the film. The sort of sick morality it lends to the ending of the film for the Dead End Kids is fascinating. In the end, Angels with Dirty Faces, is a very different but effective gangster film that dares to move a little bit out of the crime aspect and into human drama. A worthy addition to Warner's blockbuster Gangster films, and to cinema itself.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

angels with dirty faces- in anyones top five

Author: tkstevedearman from United Kingdom
18 December 2006

fantastic film every scene a delight to watch. with Cagney at his best this film is an education to one and all and what a ending. they really don,t make them like this anymore!! shows hells kitchen and how tough life was in thirties new york with two young hoodlums one turns to crime the other enters the church years later they meet with the opening words what,ya hear what,ya say. both have influence on up and coming wayward youngters. one path will lead them out of the ghetto the other path will lead to prison or worse. superb performance from pat O'Brien and and mr h bogart and other cast. plus humour from the dead end kids. great stuff.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

One of the 4 Great Gangster Pictures of All Time

Author: vitaleralphlouis from United States
30 October 2006

IMDb's all time best film is THE GODFATHER. I say "forgetaboutit." No pretentious over-sized latter day movie can lay a glove on the raw edge of Public Enemy and Little Caesar - still **** commercial movies after 75 years. The other two greats were High Sierra and this picture. Nobody my age who watches movies hasn't seen Angels with Dirty Faces at least 5 or 6 times; it played actively in theaters right up to the era of VHS tapes, and was one of the first VHS classics.

This picture boasts a great story, great direction, and great acting... including the "angels" played by Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall and the other (alternately) Dead End Kids, East Side Kids, Bowery Boys (88 films in all).

This fine movie is, in my opinion, a better picture today than when it opened to rave reviews in 1938. The added asset is it takes you right inside New York's infamous Lower East Side --- a place which was torn down decades ago.

There isn't one movie made in 2006 with a shelf life that might take it into next year --- let alone 70 years. There were literally dozens of 4-star classics released in 1938 and 1939. The films made today are as throwaway as a fast food wrapper. No quality, no substance, no artistic merit.

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