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Angels with Dirty Faces
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Index 127 reviews in total 

Classic gangster movie with some twists

Author: David Conrad from Austin, Texas
17 June 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If this movie makes a misstep, it is letting the preacher character wax a little too preachy. But then, that's what preachers do. And other than that, if that is even a fair quibble, the actors and the people behind the camera give a master class in storytelling. The opening scene shows the protagonists as children, offering a meaningful glimpse into the characters' past. Other background information, like Rocky's rise to the top ranks of the criminal underworld, his multiple incarcerations, and the fact that a couple of other con-men owe him big money, is conveyed in shorthand because it doesn't require full narrative treatment. This leaves more screen time for the playing out of the main drama: Rocky's clever re- rise as a hardened hood with a heart of gold, his expert touch with both friends and enemies, and, most significantly and memorably, the style of his fall. The sight and sound of Cagney and Bogart on screen together is not a thing to miss.

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Among the Best Of Great Gangster Films

Author: osborneshawn from london ontario
5 September 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I've watched all of Cagney's gangster films , and this one is the best. It delivers the best message, has the best acting and also benefits from the best cast assembled in any of Cagney's depression-era crime flicks. Rocky Sullivan's character is one that reverberates with us all, even the most hardened of criminals ( who aren't psychopathic) can relate to the ideas of regret and wishing you could so something good and atone for your misbehavior before leaving a world that was always rotten to you. Similarly, even a person who has led a life free of crime almost always wishes there was some way to atone for something they ha done at a certain point in their life. Redemption is a concept that hits home with everyone. Bogart plays his part as the deceptive 'pal' perfectly and with his trademark style , but is out-shined in this movie by the sensitive Father Jerry Connolly( portrayed by Pat O'Brien) - Rocky's childhood friend, a man who is fighting for the hearts and minds of a group of teens; fighting with the allure of Rocky's tough, flashy, never-say-die lifestyle and image. Watch the brilliant camera work during the scene where Rocky is being led to his execution, the shadows, the grim, defiant expression on Cagney's face, and then, the most famous scene of all - a scene shown only in shadow. Its a fantastic end to a classic movie.

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The Legend of Rocky Sullivan

Author: lugonian from Kissimmee, Florida
22 July 2012

ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (Warner Brothers, 1938), directed by Michael Curtiz, is a classic in every sense of the word. Starring James Cagney in one of his most recognizable characters of his career, it also teams him once again opposite Pat O'Brien for the sixth time. Playing boyhood pals who grow on opposite sides, it's a familiar plot used numerous time before and since. What makes this one most successful is how an oft-told story be made to appear as original as if it were being told for the very first time.

Whaddya hear, whaddya say about the story? Well, the plot goes like dis. It starts off with a prologue as the camera captures a glimpse the newspaper headline reading "Harding nominated president," before panning through the tenement section of New York where laundry is being put out to dry hanging on extended clotheslines connected from one building to the other. Also hanging around Dock Street are a couple of teen pals, William "Rocky" Sullivan (played by the remarkable Cagney look-a-like, Frankie Burke ) and Jerry Connolly (William Tracy, spelled Tracey in the credits). Rocky, a wise guy, spots three gals walking by, teasing Laury Ferguson (Marilyn Knowlden) to a point of her swearing vengeance on him some day. Later, Rocky and Jerry attempt on stealing supplies on a boxcar, only to be noticed and chased by the authorities. Jerry breaks away while Rocky is caught and sentenced to Warrington Reform School. During the prohibition era, the adult Rocky (James Cagney) continues making newspaper headlines with his life of crime. After serving time in the state penitentiary, Rocky returns to his old neighborhood where he takes up residence in a rundown rooming house on 24 Dowd Street where the now grown Laury (Ann Sheridan) also resides. After Laury gets even with Rocky, they call a truce and become friends. Rocky soon locates his pal, Jerry (Pat O'Brien), now a parish priest. Through the course of time, Rocky contacts his lawyer, James Frazier (Humphrey Bogart), who owes him $100,000. Frazier, a man not to be trusted, in partnership with crime boss, Mac Keefer (George Bancroft), manager of a gambling casino, makes ever effort to keep Rocky from wanting his share in the business, but with little success. As Rocky establishes a bonding with a group of tough neighborhood teenagers, Soapy (Billy Halop), Bim (Leo Gorcey), Patsy (Gabriel Dell), Crab (Huntz Hall), Swing (Bobby Jordan) and Hunky (Bernard Punsley) who soon idol worship him, Father Connolly tries to discourage the boys from following Rocky's life of crime. When all else fails, the priest risks his very own life by going public to expose Rocky and the mobster friends.

ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES has very few flaws that they can easily be overlooked. Though the film could have been titled "Glorifying the American Gangster," in many ways it starts off that way, but becomes a glorification in a different way. That's one of the secrets to this film's success that make it one of the most recognizable movie titles in the Cagney filmography. The supporting players have an equal hand in this one, too. Bogart, the villain, and Sheridan, the street smart city girl, each not yet major star attractions, do what's required of them, and more. O'Brien should not go unnoticed with his excellent portrayal of a loyal friend and caring priest still handy with his fists whenever needed. Michael Curtiz's fine direction and attention to detail with visuals, lighting and realistic gun-play give this movie plenty of action and suspense to hold interest for 97 minutes. The Dead End Kids, as they are billed, resume their scene stealing tactics that's made them immensely popular in both the stage and screen adaptations of Sidney Kingsley's DEAD END. Having worked on screen with Bogart in both the classic DEAD END (1937) and the nearly forgotten CRIME SCHOOL (1938), this time the slap-happy, tough talking teens have to hold their own opposite Cagney. Their scenes together give the film that special flavor, but in the long run, it's Cagney, not the Dead End Kids, who gathers the best notices, especially after that now famous closing scene very much responsible for both Cagney's Academy Award nomination and keeping the legend of Rocky Sullivan very much alive throughout the course of time.

Though Warners later released THE ANGELS WASH THEIR FACES (1939), with Ann Sheridan and the Dead End Kids, it's not a continuing saga but the use of same actors bearing different character roles in the same or at least similar New York poverty district. Aside from availability initially on home video in the 1980s and later DVD (with commentary by Dana Polan and several more extras), Rocky Sullivan and his ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES can be seen and entertained on Turner Classic Movies. "Whaddya hear, whaddya say?" (***1/2)

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Outstanding for it's time, and a must see!

Author: The Old fart Bloggs from United Kingdom
30 April 2012

James Cagney out-shined in his role, all of the other actors in the film. His charismatic charm, mixed with his solid acting and manic stance, made him one of Hollywoods most talented under the spotlight. As Rocky Sullivan, he epitomised the criminal fraternity, of that era. All in all, it's one of the best movies that I have had the pleasure of seeing in my lifetime as a movie fan. If as a child I role played these type of genre, I was always seen playing the Jimmy Cagney character, and would often be heard shouting that well-established "You dirty rat!" All in all, I have to give this movie a massive 10 out of 10, for both hard hitting action, as well as storyline plot.

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Author: Cosmoeticadotcom ( from United States
12 January 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The most asked query is whether or not the lead character, gangster Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) turns 'yellow' when he is sent to the electric chair. Of course, anyone knowing anything of gangsters, and watching the prior parts of the 97 minute film (not 78, as wrongly noted on the DVD cover), can find no evidence to support such a claim. But, that's precisely why so many ask such a superfluous question- that's what people tend to do when something is so obvious.

The film was directed by Michael Curtiz, who later directed Casablanca and Mildred Pierce. He does the usual serviceable job here, but there's no spectacular camera work by cinematographer Sol Polito, nor any memorable scoring by Max Steiner. The screenplay rises above the usual melodrama, even though it has some simplistic moments, and moves very quickly (almost too quickly, at times), setting up the bulk of the film's characters' motivations in less than nine minutes. It was written by Rowland Brown, John Wexley, Warren Duff, Ben Hecht, and Charles MacArthur. But, the obvious weak links are with the characters of Laury and the Kids. Like most love tales, this one is wedged oddly into this tale, and is quite underdeveloped. And the scenes with the Kids seem forced and unreal, for they are never developed as characters, and exist merely as symbols. The film veers towards being a cheap comedy in those moments. Had both of those angles been dropped, and more development of the Rocky-Jerry relationship been pursued the film would have been better. Of course, the film works mainly because of Cagney's bravura performance. It's as good as in other films, and contrasts with O'Brien's portrayal of the priest. Cagney got a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance- the first of his career (he would win a few years later with Yankee Doodle Dandy), and it was well deserved, and even won the New York Film Critics Award for best actor.

Now, let me end where I began, on the debate over Rocky's being yellow or not. Regardless of how one views it, this is a fine film- not great cinema, and maybe not even near great, but entertaining, moving, and well made. Oddly, it's a much finer film than either of Curtiz's two more lauded films, mentioned above, even if it's not nearly as well recalled by fans and regarded by critics. It's clear that Rocky is faking his breakdown in the end. First, the film could not be what it is without such. Rocky needs to be redeemed, and having him truly be a coward make shim all the more reprehensible. Recall, the Hays Board wanted uplift, and the last scene of the film, where Jerry lies to the boys and they rise up cellar stairs in almost heavenly fingers of light, mirrors the scene, moments earlier, where Rocky ascends beyond prison bars in light. Rocky is clearly headed for salvation. But, aside from the diegetic necessity of the moment, Rocky clearly has only one weak spot- his care for others. It's why he, not Jerry, is caught and sent to reform school; it's why Jerry is alive, and Rocky on Death Row for killing a cop; and it's why he saves the life of Laury when he's first ambushed by Keefer's men. Rocky is neither a psychotic nor a psychopath. He has a clear set of ethics- right or wrong, and lives and dies by them, for he is willing to do so. And he clearly shows no fear in the face of death. In fact, it is Jerry who, in many ways, comes off as the more ethically alarming figure, for he follows no consistent ethic. He originally lets Rocky take the fall for the train robbery, then smugly declaims his virtue throughout the film, even as it's clear he has no real understanding of the younger generation. He also seems to miss many of the key motivations of human beings that Rocky instantly is aware of. Yet, through all of this, the man seems to have no real sense of loyalty to the man who saved his ass several times, takes no responsibility for his own actions, up to and including the lie to the Kids, who, if this film were truly a bit of social realism, not melodrama, would have easily called bullshit on the priest. Finally, he seems to have no real regard for Rocky, save as a means to his own end, whereas Rocky even tells Jerry, when caught by the train bulls, that his getting nabbed was just the breaks. Rocky is a criminal and killer, but he's a mature, responsible one. Jerry is an immature, irresponsible coward. One even wonders if, when Rocky caterwauls, Jerry is praying for Rocky's soul or thanking God for once again manipulating his friend for his own means, whose ends are justified because Jerry says so (lying- even for an ostensibly good cause- is still considered a sin, no?) Finally, there are only two choices re: the ending: Rocky is truly a sniveling coward (belied by his saving of Jerry's life at least twice) or Rocky is redeemed. Reality (diegetically or not) point conclusively to the latter choice.

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Crime and Punishment

Author: angry127 from London, England
10 November 2010

After seeing more modern movies (Scarface, Goodfellas) we see that they got a lot of their inspirations from Studio Era crime movies. More specifically, Angels with Dirty Faces sticks out.

We are treated to Cagney playing a criminal in and out of jail. He seems almost born for this role which is probably which he plays it in many movies. The film moves very quickly and uses a lot of sliding camera shots to engage the audience. It almost looks as though it was filmed today with some of the sweeping shots through the city.

The main message we get from the story is that crime does not pay. We follow Cagney and not the priest throughout the movie, so we empathize with him. This makes the blow at the end more harsh. The end of the movie does send a sparkle of possible good to come from the following generations, so we are somewhat at piece.

Highly recommended for anyone with a taste in American cinema.

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Good versus Evil?

Author: evileyereviews from United States
6 November 2010

What happens when good and evil turn out to be childhood chums? This classic, with movie greats Cagney and Bogart, unknowingly address the question of nature versus nurture, with the two inevitably blending into one element of character development. The result is the manufacture of blind hope that oil and water, or more like elemental sodium and water, will somehow combine without calamitous result. The story was wonderfully infused with a moral fundament that is never stuffed down our throats, taking on the impetuous of the social evils of the day sans judgment. Our players are up for the job, turning in worthy performances on all accounts, not without a few bumps and bruises from the Dead End Kids. The direction and camera work are all on par for a flick of high caliber, with closeups and angles that punctuate all the right moments, all of this to be followed by a moral decision that most could not bear. "What do ya hear what do ya say?" Well, I say that this is a flick that should find as apt an audience today as any of yesteryear.

Genruk of Evil Eye Reviews

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go dig a hole and jump in it

Author: GodzillaVSJaws from United States
31 August 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

well, listening to the other reviews, they look at the acting and technical aspect of the film. I will not do that. I will give you an honest answer as to why this movie pops into my head whenever people are talking about the greatest films of all time. But first, i would like to point something out to you. I never would have seen or heard of this movie if it was not for TCM. So thanks TCM. But isn't it strange how, whenever critics talk about classic films, all they ever mention is Citizen Kane,Gone With the Wind,Rebel without a cause, or Casablanca. In fact, a Cagney film is not even mentioned. I could only watch Rebel for five minutes, literally five minutes, and then i had to change the channel, i did not care to go back to it. All i saw of Citizen Kane was, well, nothing, my mother said it was like tearing her hair out with her toes, i believe my mother. I don't trust those critics, so i didn't bother to see the other two. So why does this film pop into my head often? Well, heres the answer. films like Lord of the Rings and Toy Story both have three films in the trilogy. The endings of both films are as emotional as anything we've ever seen in a film, or is it? Angels With Dirty Faces is roughly 80 minutes long, and it manages to build up more emotion by the ending that you will ponder how it made you feel for the rest of your life. The only movie to beat Angels with its emotion would be The Passion Of the Christ. Mel's the Man.

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Brilliant, timeless and poignant film about friendship and redemption.

Author: Leonard Smalls: The Lone Biker of the Apocalypse from Arizona
21 May 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Without a doubt, "Angels With Dirty Faces" is one of the greatest films of all time.

The story of two hoodlum kids; one who gets caught, one who doesn't. The kid who gets caught ends up going through the justice system and ends up being killed by it. The kid who doesn't ends up being a priest. Those of us who grew up around crime will see this at worst as slightly extreme and at best as utterly realistic. Either way, it works well as a plot.

This is my favorite performance by James Cagney. Not for one second do we doubt him as the quintessential bad ass. As believable as Pacino in "Scarface," more rebellious than DeNiro in "Taxi Driver" and as likable as Slater in "True Romance." Up until the final scene, Cagney pulls it off perfectly. He is unphased and mean in the face of death.

I love the ending, when we see his shadow before he goes to the electric chair. His phony breakdown and his hands grasping to save himself. What a powerful message to have in a movie that came out over 70 years ago.

To say it was ahead of it's time would be a ridiculous understatement. It is STILL ahead of it's time. Try showing it to kids today and you'll see what I mean. Boy, how they have changed...I wonder if it's for the better.

10 out of 10, kids.

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What do *I* hear, what do *I* say?

Author: slymusic from Tucson, AZ
12 March 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

From director Michael Curtiz comes a brilliant Warner Bros. gangster picture, "Angels with Dirty Faces", featuring a superlative cast of thespians: James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart, George Bancroft, and the "Dead End" Kids. Cagney plays William "Rocky" Sullivan, a notorious gangster with a "kiss my ass" attitude, around whom trouble always swirls and over whose eyes the wool can never be pulled. In short, Rocky has the town in the palm of his corrupt hand, thus influencing probably hundreds of other younger thugs, six of whom are played by the Dead Ends. Amazingly, one of Rocky's best friends is Father Jerome "Jerry" Connelly (Pat O'Brien), who as a youngster fought & stole with Rocky but has now taken the straight & narrow path into priesthood. Realizing that Rocky hasn't changed over the years, Father Jerry strongly urges Rocky not to encourage the younger generation to admire him. Rocky's lawyer is James "Jim" Frazier (Humphrey Bogart), a severely dishonest man with a gang of his own, trying to delay as long as he can the exchanging of $100,000 to Rocky.

My favorite scenes from this impressive feature film include the following. When showing Rocky to his room, Laury Martin (Ann Sheridan) slaps him and pulls down his hat, something she waited fifteen years to do, after which Rocky's bed collapses. I love the basketball sequence with the Dead End Kids, during which the cheating never stops, especially when Rocky takes over as the ref. I also like the poolroom sequence with its atmospheric piano music, as well as Father Connelly's act of slugging a patron (Dick Wessel). Rocky briefly shoots it out with some of Frazier's hoodlums on the rooftop of the El Toro, with great musical accompaniment by Max Steiner. In probably the most emotionally effective sequence in the picture, Father Connelly is in tears when Rocky feigns being scared stiff going to the electric chair (Jerry had persuaded Rocky to discourage the Dead End Kids by acting scared, so that the kids no longer worship Rocky in their memories; Rocky flatly refuses to perform this act until the very last few seconds of his life). And finally, I can recall once having a tear in my own eye upon listening to the St. Brendan's Church Boys Choir at the very end of the picture, when Father Jerry persuades the Dead End Kids to join him in a prayer for a boy who couldn't run as fast as Jerry could.

The various urchins played by the Dead End Kids in "Angels with Dirty Faces" are completely unlikable thugs, devoid of any vestige of proper conduct. I'm not convinced that reformation is right around the corner for these youngsters at the closing of this film. One can only hope so after the end credits.

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