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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You can't miss with Michael Curtiz at the helm, Max Steiner doing the
music, Ann Sheridan and Humphrey Bogart in supporting roles, the Dead
End Kids for "the kids", Pat O'Brien as a priest fighting gangland
crime, and James Cagney as Rocky Sullivan, doing one of his best
It's a tough crime drama with a tug of war between O'Brien and Cagney, boyhood pals, who find themselves reunited twenty years later when Cagney's out of prison and O'Brien's a priest. It's O'Brien's mission to try to save the "angels with dirty faces" from being filled with hero worship for Cagney's pugnacious villainy.
The climactic scene has Cagney headed for the electric chair with O'Brien requesting that he show some streak of cowardice so the boys will stop using him as a role model for a life of crime.
Once again, poor Bogart ends up writhing around on the floor riddled with bullets after he and George Bancroft double-cross Cagney. It's the typical Warner crime melodrama done with their usual finesse and well worth seeing if you're a fan of Cagney, O'Brien and Bogart--or the young Ann Sheridan.
This Warner Bros. gangster classic features James Cagney as Rock
Sullivan and Pat O'Brien as Father Jerry. They play two small time
hoodlums who are the best of friends. Eventually one day they decide to
steal from a boxcar and are spotted by the police. The child character
of Pat O'Brian gets away while James's child character, Rocky, is
caught and put into reform school. As the years go by Rocky continues
to go down the path of a gangster while his friend takes the other road
and becomes the priest of the church in their neighborhood.
Not only is this story extremely original, but the lovable gangster James Cagney makes this movie work. When I sat down to watch it I believed it was yet another gangster picture of a man who works his way to the top and is then losses it all overnight. I was pleasantly surprised when I found that it was more about bravery. This movie goes where most gangster films don't and uncovers the sentimental side of a gangster and what he'll do to help the ones he cares for.
I recommend this film to the not only the lovers of 1940 gangster pictures but to people who are interested in something more than just being entertained. People want to learn about what it means to be truly good and what it means to sacrifice for the right thing. This is probably Cagney's best role next to White Heat because he does something he never did before, HE CRIES!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The general consensus is that the seminal gangster films are "Little
Caesar", "The Public Enemy" and "Scarface: the Shame of a Nation".
Maybe I belong to a minority but I believe there was something missing
even after these three films were released and it's only when Michael
Curtiz directed the excellent "Angels with Dirty Faces" that the genre
gained in maturity, featuring for the first time, a gangster with a
possible redemption, the theme cherished by Francis Ford Coppola,
Martin Scorsese and to a certain extent Quentin Tarantino.
But let's get back to the film, "Angels With Dirty Faces" focuses on the friendship between Rocky Sullivan, James Cagney in his most sublime role and Pat O'Brien as Jerry Connor, his best friend. Like in "The Public Enemy", they both started as young punks but the film immediately deviates after a botched pens' stealing. Rocky is arrested because he can't run as fast as Jerry, who is given the chance of redemption Rocky didn't have. Jerry wants to confess but Rocky takes the blame, and shows right from the beginning that being an outlaw doesn't deprive from a certain sense of honor. This altruistic gesture paid off since Jerry not only redeemed himself but also became a priest, eager to use his background to convince thugs not to end up like Rocky. Rocky's sacrifice is like Vito selling his soul to the devil so Michael can live a decent life.
Too far fetched? I'm not so sure.
Rocky becomes a successful criminal, and makes money through the complicity of his crooked lawyer, Frazier, played by Humphrey Bogart (you could tell it was still his earlier roles where he was either a second-hand or a coward but never mind, this is Cagney's film, and Bogey would get his break) The relationship between Rocky, Frazier and the local mobster played by George Bancroft illustrates the intricacies between politics, crime and even police. Maybe the film was too ambitious but at least it covered some of the themes that would be more developed by "The Godfather". However the core of the story is still the influence of Rocky Sullivan on a street gang played by the 'Dead End' kids, the bunch of uneducated, violent and streetwise kids from William Wyler's "Dead End" who see Rocky as a hero, an icon. In their own way, they illustrate the fascination of the public toward gangsters. Yet this time, no need to a political statement or a moral cop to patronize us, we're in 1938, and the viewers can't figure out for themselves and feel guilty about it or not. This is the essence of the anti-heroic figure.
"Angels with Dirty Faces" was ahead of its time because the 'antihero' concept would finally emerge through the brilliant "Bonnie and Clyde", the iconic line "We rob banks" was a reference to the same law that ruined farmers, it had a sort of romantic way to turn the bandits into some Robin Hood figures but it was at the same time embracing the rebellious spirit of the Vietnam war, and people felt there was a potential capital of sympathy within outlaw figures. This attitude pinnacles with "The Godfather" because it showed how even politicians can be as morally corrupted as gangsters and benefit from some criminal activities. "We're all part of the same hypocrisy". The disillusioned Nixon era and the rise of criminality in urban cities originated a new sub-genre of the cop thriller movie; the vigilante film, the gangster or criminal became a worthless villain that had no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and the new hero of the 70's was the vigilante: Dirty Harry, Popeye Doyle or Shaft, those were the macho heroes, as charismatic, tough and ruthless as gangster except that they were at the right side of the law, and they gave us an excuse to cheer up when they got their hands 'dirty'.
It had its sort of right-wing fascist taste but it had the merit to depict criminals as the true scumbags they were before "Scarface" would come back with an anti-heroic hero and Sergio Leone with "Once Upon a Time in America". And there are some parts that have probably inspired Leone's epic, starting with the 'Dead End' gang, and as soon as they get some money from Rocky, more than they ever had, they buy themselves nice suits and play the big shots in a pool bar. They remind us of the appeal of the gangster lifestyle, easy money, flash and good time. Realizing the bad influence of Sullivan, Father Obrien tries to reason them, but they are as indifferent as those who read the statements in the earlier films, they don't care, and even in the film, it's impossible not to be mesmerized by Cagney more than O'Brien. And that's the key of the film, 'you don't make up for your sins in church'. And if it weren't for the last ten minutes of the film, I wouldn't have even thought of putting the film among the best of the genre.
Rocky's Christ-like sacrifice is probably the most generous ever committed, even more beautiful because some could still wonder if it was genuine. It's all about trading the most precious thing one man can have: honor and dignity. When Tony Camonte crawled like a rat, begged for his life, this was only Muni pretending to be another character because Hawks had pressure from the Code, no one would buy that the guy would act like this. When Rocky did the same thing, maybe he was pretending, or maybe not, but it was a heroic act, meant to show the true face of a criminal; a coward, so he wouldn't become a model. What "Scarface" did as a last-minute cheap propaganda, "Angels with Dirty Faces" did with a haunting panache, transcending the antihero to an ahead-of-its-time Scorsesian level.
t's a good film directed by Michael Curtiz, based on an original story.
It earned three Oscar nominations and the award for Best Actor (James
Cagney) of "New York Film Circle." It was produced by Samuel Bischoff.
The action takes place on the East Side, Neva York in the 20's. After fifteen years away from the neighborhood, because of his incarceration in reformatories and prison, "William Sullivan", aka "Rocky", returns to find his best friend from childhood, "Jeremy Connolly," alias "Jerry" (Pat O O'Brien), become rector of the parish. For various reasons, Rocky is forced to continue his criminal career together, not without severe tensions with his former colleague "James Frazier" (H. Bogart), his boss "Mac Keefer" (George Bancroft) and his band. He also meets "Laury Martin" childhood neighbor, which is the support, understanding and friendship, which so badly needs. The disturbing influence of "Rocky" on the boys become so large in view of the weak and sweet father "Jerry", which he decides to launch a public campaign to denounce the crime in the city and, consequently, his former partner.
The music of Max Steiner ("Gone with the Wind") is a delight for the ears and a source of emotions. It's overwhelming the support of the final scene: it begins with a passage that suggests a portent of death continues with a short sequence of "Gloria" and ends with a wonderful melody of salvation and triumph. The photograph features a superb game of contrasts of black and gray variety, which become oppressive to the end of the play, the hand of an inspired Sol Polito ("42nd Street"). The initial tracking shot is outstanding, divided into two parts, showing viewers the news of the day, the atmosphere of the neighborhood, the image of the facades of houses, organ music and a balcony where they are leaning "Rocky" and "Jerry". The script is rich in nuances and is characterized by the brevity of the interventions and the sincerity of the content. The characters are expressed with depth and consistency, especially the protagonist of "Rocky," a victim of a mistake of youth involved in criminal conversion while in prison and a reformatory. Ann Sheridan is dazzling sympathy, femininity and beauty in the character of "Laury" lover "Rocky". The role of Bogart, road to stardom is as short as excellent.
This is one of the best gangster movie so successful that occurred in the decade of the 30 in the U.S.. Cagney delivers one of the best performances of his career. Curtiz gets it, it may be his best film after "Casablanca". The final scene has an extraordinary force.
A classic gangster film of Hollywood's Golden Age from Casablanca
director Michael Curtiz, Angels with Dirty Faces is one of James
Cagney's most well known films and had him nominated for his first
Rocky Sullivan (Cagney) and Jerry Connelly (Pat O'Brien) are childhood friends who are caught robbing a train as kids. After Rocky takes the rap the two set on different paths, Jerry becomes a priest while Rocky can't escape the life of crime. Years later they reunite on friendly terms but each have a different influence on a group of street kids who resemble the lifestyle they once shared.
The film for the most part may seem to be just a typical 1930s gangster quota quickie from Warner, with Rocky as a tough crook being screwed over by his former ally Humphrey Bogart. But the focus is instead on the relationship with Jerry who looks out for the best interests of the kids (to whom the title refers), and by the end Rocky must make a decision which, to a Depression era audience, would have been quite inspiring. Cagney also gives Rocky a moral grounding which has the audience sympathising with him from start to finish.
Overall a decent crime story with a message about the kind of courage that is not "heroics and bravado", and you can clearly see its influence on modern characterisation, but perhaps this means the novelty is lost to today's audience.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
James Cagney once again epitomises the gangster of the United States in
the inter-war years, here he plays Rocky Sullivan who's life took a
turn for the worse when he got caught robbing in a railway yard and
sent to reform school, from then on he was in and out of prison, each
time for more and more serious offences. Meanwhile his friend who was
with him at the time and could run a little faster so didn't get caught
went on to become the parish priest.
When Rocky gets out fifteen years later he goes to see his crooked lawyer who has been holding on to a hundred thousand dollars for him. The Lawyer, played by Humphrey Bogart, has other ideas and thinks it is better to have Rocky killed than give him that much money. He gives Rocky $500 saying he'll get the rest later, on his way home a group of street punks pick Rocky's pocket but he follows them and gets in back, he also ends up befriending them. When the killers move in to attack Rocky he spots them before they can strike and escapes leaving one of them dead. He then heads straight back to Bogart's and empties his safe, among the items he finds there are books giving details of various corrupt officials and their connections to the underworld. He then goes to Bogart's boss and demands the rest of his money.
Not all his activities are criminal, he meets up with his old friend Father Connolly who is involved in youth work that involves teaching the street punks basketball. When they have a match Rocky takes over as referee and maintains discipline in a fairly unorthodox manner. Connolly sees that the kids idolise Rocky and his gangster lifestyle so vows that he will bring down the gangsters even if that means bringing down his friend too. The other gangsters plan to silence the priest... permanently but Rocky has other ideas which lead to one of the most memorable of film endings.
This is clearly Cagney's film and he is great as Rocky, Pat O'Brien is good as his friend the priest and Bogart is good as the weaselly lawyer. The "Dead End Kids" are less good as the street punks, sometimes coming across as a bit too smart-alecky, this doesn't spoil the film though. If you haven't seen this yet and are a fan of gangster films then I strongly suggest putting near the top of your too see list.
One of the best of its type, "Angels with Dirty Faces" epitomizes the
"gangster" and "juvenile delinquent" pictures of the 1930s (and 1940s).
These are the films showing how unfortunate circumstances turn young
men into hardened criminals. It's the "Nature vs. Nurture" argument.
And, don't waste any time wondering about this film's stance - the
title says it all - if you rub that dirty criminal's face hard enough,
you'll find a hidden Angel.
This is the case with tough guy James Cagney (as Rocky Sullivan), who landed in reform school for stealing, and was seduced into a life of crime. It may be too late for Cagney, but not for the younger generation of dirty-faced angels known as "The Dead End Kids", who worship the charismatic gangster. At least, that's the way scarred priest Pat O'Brien (as Jerry Connolly) sees things. Father O'Brien, who escaped Cagney's fate, wants salvation for the little tough guys.
Cagney's courageous, shoulder-rolling turn as "Rocky" is entrancing; absolutely, he deserved a "Best Actor" award - which the "on target" in the 1930s New York Film Critics delivered. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the classic line-up of "Dead End Kids" - Billy Halop as "Soapy", Bobby Jordan as "Swing", Leo Gorcey as "Bim", Gabriel Dell as "Pasty", Huntz Hall as "Crab", and Bernard Punsly as "Hunky" - are a symphony of spitting, smoking, and (mostly) smacked upside the head young punks.
The memorable Warner Brothers supporting cast includes rheumy-eyed lawyer Humphrey Bogart (as James Frazier), sultry Ann Sheridan (as Laury Ferguson), and perfectly cast Frankie Burke (as a young James Cagney). "Social Consciousness"- raising films can often trip over themselves, so don't watch this one in the wrong frame of mind.
********* Angels with Dirty Faces (11/24/38) Michael Curtiz ~ James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Billy Halop, Humphrey Bogart
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For me, it's hard to separate James Cagney from the character he
created as Rocky Sullivan, the street wise punk who becomes a master
criminal in "Angels With Dirty Faces". It's one of his quintessential
roles, and one that sears itself into memory from the classic heyday of
Warner Brothers crime and gangster dramas. Watching it just once leaves
you thinking "Whaddya hear, whaddya say?" for days following; would
that a current film could leave such an impact.
The story follows the exploits of young hood Rocky after he takes the rap for a stockyard train car break in, while buddy Jerry (Pat O'Brien) high tails it on a quicker pair of legs. A montage of scenes depicts his graduation into a life of crime, making a name for himself while the jail sentences get longer and longer. Finding himself back in the old Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, Rocky takes up with a local gang, the familiar wise cracking Dead End Kids. They come to idolize the man who makes a mockery of the law, even as he knocks a few of their heads under the watchful eye of Father Connelly, the young Jerry grown up as the local parish priest.
With Cagney and O'Brien heading the cast, it's easy to forget that another Warner heavyweight is part of the action. Humphrey Bogart usually took a back seat to fellow actors Cagney and Edward G. Robinson in the films they appeared in together. Bogie worked with Cagney three times, also supporting him in "The Oklahoma Kid", and sharing equal footing in another crime film, "The Roaring Twenties". Here, Bogie's character is Jim Frazier, a former Sullivan ally and now a top shelf lawyer for crime boss Mac Keefer (George Bancroft). Both run afoul of Rocky's temper and allegiance to friend Father Jerry, even as the priest threatens to expose the whole lot of them for the corrupt criminals they are.
Also turning in a fine but very brief performance is the lovely Ann Sheridan; her best bit comes early when she gets her revenge on Rocky for a childhood torment. She comes to grow fond of Rocky, but their relationship is not enough to keep him out of trouble.
I get a kick out of studying the different styles of gun play in both Western and gangster films. Cowboy Wild Bill Elliott usually "threw" his six shooter in the direction he was firing, while characters like the Lone Ranger usually just aimed and fired. Cagney has perhaps the most manic style in film, with a wild pumping motion as he lets the opposition have it.
As usually found in the Warner Brother movies of the era, civic and moral dilemmas are generally solved with right winning out in the end. As Rocky prepares to walk the last mile with Father Jerry by his side, he's challenged to find "the kind of courage born in heaven". The camera work and lighting is exemplary in those final minutes, as Jerry implores Rocky to take a final courageous stand. As Rocky's face sneeringly appears dead on into the camera for one last time, it's followed shortly after by his anguished cries for pardon and escape from death. Rocky dies a "yellow rat", his execution leaving a question mark for the viewer to provide his own interpretation. If you can suppress a tear for the condemned Rocky Sullivan at this point, the film hasn't worked it's magic on you.
"Angels With Dirty Faces" is one of my all time favorites, and a must see for Cagney and Dead End Kids fans. The young toughs usually found themselves in some fairly sappy adventures, and the films in which they starred generally fail to satisfy. Here however, they're great in a support role, and get their comeuppance more than once at the hands of a master. That's why they're more than willing in the end to accompany Father Jerry when he says - "OK fellas, let's go and say a prayer for a boy who couldn't run as fast as I could."
James Cagney first portrayed a gangster in "Public Enemy" and began to create an indelible screen image as a tough guy, which endured despite occasional forays into lighter fare like "Footlight Parade" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy." In the late 1940's, he took his gangster image into middle age and to the edge of madness in "White Heat." But his portrayal of Rocky Sullivan in "Angels with Dirty Faces" is the perfect embodiment of James Cagney, the screen's peerless tough guy. Cocky, arrogant, remorseless, Cagney's Rocky is an iconic portrayal of the 1930's gangster. Despite great support from Pat O'Brien, Anne Sheridan, and Humphrey Bogart, the film is Cagney's show, although he is off the screen much of the time. As the boy who did not run fast enough from a crime, was caught by the police, sent to reform school, and learned to be a criminal, Cagney dominates the film. He is the corrupt reflection of the O'Brien character, who was Rocky's boyhood friend, outran the police, and eventually became a priest. The film pits the two friends against each other in adulthood for the minds and souls of a group of young boys, who are amusingly played by Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, and the rest of the Dead End kids. The film builds to a powerful climax that is a classic scene in cinema history. The final powerful images and dialog will haunt the viewer and leave him or her to ponder whether or not Rocky had honored his lifelong friend's final request or not.
This crime/drama concerns two childhood friends that both grew up in
Hell's Kitchen back in 1920th. Jerry Connelly (O'Brien) became a parish
priest and the other, Rocky Sullivan (Cagney) the career criminal.
The Angels of the title are the neighborhood boys whom Father Jerry
tries to save from lives of crime and who have come to idolize the
tough, fast, furious and cool guy Rocky. Yes, Cagney's Rocky was a
criminal but one could not help rooting for him in every scene of the
movie which he stole from the rest of the cast. Cagney is riveting as
Rocky. When he talks, you want to listen, when he walks, you want to
follow. Who would blame the Dead End Kids for wanting to be like him?
Father Jerry does not blame them but he tries his best not to let that
"Angels with Dirty Faces" is a great movie, a true classic that combines an excellent crime movie with the characters like crooked lawyer (Humphrey Bogard) and corrupt politician (George Bancroft) with whom Rocky formed a doomed business alliance and a very human and compelling drama of two best friends, the choices they made, the roads they took and where the roads brought them. Great directing, writing, acting from everyone and absolutely brilliant performance from James Cagney.
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