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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This was my second 'Cagney experience', after 'City for Conquest' which
left such an indelible impression that I had to go and Amazon a bunch
of his films. He's just not a face you hear much about these days, I
suppose, unless you're a student of film history or if you have a crazy
uncle who once dreamed of being a mafioso but now runs a dry cleaner
(I'm in the latter category).
The one thing I can say is Cagney is a dancer in his heart, and each scene featuring the actor comes alive with the kind of energy you expect from a cabaret performer. The guy just robs the screen. I can't wait to see more.
Angels with Dirty Faces is one of the best gangster movies of classic
Hollywood because it is not only about a gangster. Rather, it is about
his life, the rise and fall of his role as a criminal who still
maintains a friendship with his boyhood pal who has gone the complete
opposite route as a priest.
Here James Cagney portrays Rocky Sullivan, a tough-guy all his life who still has a place in his heart for Jerry Connolly (Pat O'Brien), a soft-spoken parishioner who tries desperately to reform the young kids on the street. Both see this, and both have their own ideas about what these kids' futures should be. The film delves much further than just two boys on opposite sides of the law. Rather, here we see Rocky as his ambition turns to fruition but Jerry as he struggles to win over these wanna-be tough kids. These guys have opposing world-views but commonly care for these kids and each other. The way director Michael Curtiz works them together is one of the great treasures of this movie.
We also get Humphrey Bogart in a supporting role as a weakling of a lawyer and Ann Sheridan as the woman who attempts to see through Rocky's hard shell. As I said before, this is a better gangster film than say Scarface or Little Caesar because it takes the criminal life seriously. Here, we see the roots and consequences of that ravishing lifestyle. We also get the message that there are common bonds that transcend our normal lifestyles. Truly one of the premiere films of the 1930s, this is a classic that must always be remembered.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of James Cagney's most memorable roles sees him play gangster Rocky
Sullivan who returns to his old slum neighbourhood after a spell in 'da
We are first introduced to Rocky as a teenager with his pal Jerry Connolly whom roam the streets of the neighbourhood looking for ways to make a quick dollar. On one fateful occasion they rob a freight car full of fountain pens but are discovered by rail workers, in a desperate bid to escape, they make a run for it. Jerry gets away but Rocky is caught and sent to the reformatory. A montage sequence then shows the intervening years in Rocky's life and as his age increases so does the severity of his Crimes.
When finally released from Prison, he returns to his old neighbourhood and it is here we find that Jerry's life has taken different turn altogether. He's now a priest, (played by Pat O'Brien), with every intention of keeping the street kids of the present, (played by the Dead End Kids), on the straight and Narrow.
Rocky, in his sharp suit and with a billfold so thick it could choke a horse, becomes a figure of hero worship to these kids as he is a tangible example of what they see as a local kid making good and that crime DOES pay after all.
Sadly, Rocky hasn't learnt any lessons as he's still very much involved with his old crooked Lawyer, Frazier, (Humphrey Bogart) and mob boss Keefer, (George Bancroft), but away from the rackets he finds romance with local girl and butt of his old childhood jokes, Laury Ferguson, (Ann Sheridan).
With Rocky once again descending back into to a life of crime, and the kids ever further under his spell, Father Jerry goes public with a campaign to wipe organised crime from the streets and personally single's out his friend Rocky as a target. which ultimately ends with Rocky's last mile walk to the death house.
Moments before Rocky is to executed in the Electric Chair, Father Jerry implores Rocky to die 'yella' to show the kids that there has been nothing honourable in either his life or his death. Rocky refuses and is led away to his death with a look of firm defiance etched on his face, until......
Angels With Dirty Faces is a triumph in movie making and that's not surprising as it was a film that had the brilliant Michael Curtiz at the helm, who directed more movies now considered to be classics than any other director before or since.
In my view, Angels With Dirty Faces is not really a crime movie, it's a film about three relationships. The relationship between Rocky and Father Jerry, the relationship between Father Jerry and the Kids and the relationship between the Kids and Rocky, with even the 'crime' subplot only really needed in order to get Rocky where he ultimately needs to be, in the death house.
For years after, people always used to ask James Cagney as to whether Rocky really did die yella or was faking it for the sake of the kids. His answer was always the same. He played it with 'deliberate ambiguity' in order for the audience to arrive at such a decision for themselves as to what were the final motives of Rocky Sullivan. In that one scene and with that one action, the world was shown that James Cagney was a master at his craft, a genius in the art of screen acting.
Warner's christened the 'Gangster' genre with "Little Ceaser" and Cagney's "Public Enemy" and suddenly re-lit the fire of the genre with "Angels.." not only great storyline but fine castings. Cagney and O'Brien had been cast in buddy films a few times prior and were excellent pals off the screen (though opposites just the same), and the film's fork in the road angle made for a great contrast. While Rocky's delinquent was crafted into cold machine, Jerry's escaped delinquent not only wishes to take the rap but turns over the new leaf as a result... "Don't be a sucker!" As many of the films of the time (see director 'Wild' Bill Wellman as a reference) preached of the system's failings, "Angels.." gave us the proof. Rocky's cold and heartless machine returns to the old home ghetto to churn the next generation of 'Rockys' without even knowing it, while Father Jerry not only prays for his pal's soul, but his downfall. Throw the rather sweet yet sensual Ann Sheridan into the mix and you have a movie. Warner's usual ploy of root for the gangster but cheer for his fall is in full swing as we see it through the eyes of the 'Dead End Kids' angels with dirty faces... their hero dies a coward. Or does he? Cagney, often asked about his performance in Rocky's final scene, always said he left ambiguous for a reason. You watch and you decide. A good film will always make you question or perhaps say 'That could happen', but a great film will often leave you saying "Hey...did that.. wha?" (but in a good way) A great classic film.. a popcorn movie all day long and no bathroom breaks!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Spoilers. Going to the end. Cagney going to the chair. Becoming yellow.
Screaming out in agony.
When I was going for surgery, I was screaming out ala Cagney's lines. I thought surely I would die on the operating table. I actually thought of Cagney in this movie, beforehand. I did wake up, actually, but I still have a powerful memory of my fears pre-surgery.
Well, Cagney showed those kids what would happen if they continued their lives of punkdom -- showing that crime does not pay.
I did like the parts where he shows them he knows all their secrets, and how they find out he wrote the book while they were still in their baby carriages. He follows them to their hideout (his old hideout?), and forces them to give him back the money they stole, plus scares the living daylights out of them with the fake-gun (his hand) in his pocket. When they find out he is a famous gangster, they are suddenly all hero-worshipful.
I did enjoy seeing the lovely Ann Sheridan, whom I saw in King's Row with Ronald Reagan and Robert Cummings. She is always a delight, and quite intelligent.
I enjoyed seeing Pat O'Brien interact with Cagney. I know they were in other movies together, but I especially enjoyed seeing them in Ragtime, their final one. They were both elderly by that time, but the spark never left them.
I certainly loved Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy. He was awesome in Midsummer Night's Dream. His gangster movies are an important stereotype, even though he qualified IRL as a Master Tap Dancer. In Angels with Dirty Faces, he softens up in order to show the delinquents some type of love and affection that maybe they were missing from their own families.
This movie: 15/10. A fantastic classic. The personality portraits are just superb.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a very well made movie,with good performances by all concerned.However, most people are unaware that one scene was much more "realistic" than they imagine. In his autobiography Pat O'Brien tells a typical story of Mike Curtiz's sadism.In the scene where the boy actors playing Cagney and O'Brien as boys are fleeing through the rail yard,it appears that they are nearly run down by a switch engine.Most people would figure that this was merely an illusion, trick photography. It was not;those boys came as close to being killed as it appears.Curtiz had carefully instructed the engineer as to exactly what speed he was to operate the locomotive in that scene,and the engineer was careful to follow instructions precisely.After the scene was over, and the engineer saw just how near he had come to killing the two boys, he was so shaken that he could barely climb down from the engine. When he recovered,he went over to Curtiz and demanded to know what was going on. Curtiz smiled with satisfaction and said"VERY GOOD.I deliberately did not tell those boys that you would be going so fast because I wanted it CLOSE!" O'Brien said that only quick work by the film crew prevented the engineer from killing Curtiz with his bare hands.
Classic movie which really surprised me. I watched it on the TCM day channel. What I liked especially was the last scene. "Did the priest lie to the boys when he told that the newspapers were true in the news reports about Rocky and how he ended as a coward?". What was the purpose of this lie, if it was a lie?! Would it make a difference?! The purpose of this lie, again ... if it was a lie; is clear. It's all about saving those boys from following their hero into big crime. But, would that be wrong? According to their hero it was not wrong. For him it was even the only thing to do. Otherwise he'd be just as gullible as many other people are. Still, living a life at any time being on the edge because other hooligans are trying to be in your shoes?! Anyway, what appealed to me too was a great friendship between to men that stayed friends, even when they'd grown totally apart. Great story, great performance of the classics and a great ending.
For such a rousing gangster picture to have a core heartbeat of sense and reason is quite an achievement, that Angels With Dirty Faces also pumps the blood at an accelerated rate makes it essential viewing for the genre and 30s cinema as a whole. The main scenes are unforgettable, be it the tough ones as the character of Rocky Sullivan is fleshed out, or the humorous (almost touching) ones such as a basketball sequence where Rocky teaches the young ruffian gang the lay of the land. Many films from the golden era had a central theme of childhood friends choosing different career paths, but Angels With Dirty Faces (or should that read Doity Faces?) is awash with great performances (Bogart shady weasel always a welcome boost) that are thriving on a wonderful script. The eye direction from Michael Curtiz is easy on the eye, and the finale is to me good enough to rank with the best that cinema has to offer. So for those reasons I believe that Angels sits proudly at the top of the tree as one of the best genre pieces ever made. 10/10
Have not seen this picture in a long time but it is always a great treat to view it again, because it shows just what New York City's Hell's Kitchen looked like on the East Side of Manhattan in the 30's. There were old tenement homes and people use their windows to hang out their laundry to dry in the Summer. This film starts out with two boys, Rocky Sullivan, (James Cagney) and Jerry Connolly, (Pat O'Brien) and they are typical poor boys who have fun fooling around and stealing things from people. As time goes bye, these two boys grow up and go their separate ways in life. Rocky Sullivan wound up in reform school, and then prison and took the rap for James Frazier who owed Rocky his share of the money which was $100,00.00. When Rocky gets out of the pen, he comes looking for Frazier who is now a lawyer and he does not want to part with this money and that is when the story becomes full of action and killing. The "Dead End Kids" gave a great supporting role and Pat O'Brien, (Jerry Connolly) was outstanding playing the role as a priest. Enjoy.
Sidney Kingsley's socially conscious drama DEAD END played on Broadway
from October 1935 until June of 1937 for a total of 687 performances.
The powerful play didn't go unnoticed on the West Coast, so the screen
rights were purchased post haste by Samuel Goldwyn and the screen
adaptation of DEAD END (1937) was released for all the World to view.
But it wasn't just the screen rights that were taken from Broadway to Tinsel Town, for the group of young toughs, who many thought were actual delinquents from the Slums got Movie Contracts from Mr.Goldwyn. So, Billy Hallop, Leo Gorcey, Hunyz Hall, Gabriel Dell, Bobby Jordan and Bernard Punsly headed west to fame and fortune on the Silver Screen. Also making the trek West was Marjorie Main in order that she might reprise her role as Mrs. Martin, mother of "Baby Face".
Once DEAD END was completed, Mr. Goldwyn sold the contracts of the young guys to Jack Warner, Studio Chief of his namesake company. Once there, they were put to work on some rather serious socially conscious movies like THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL, CRIME SCHOOL, HELL'S KITCHEN and with James Cagney, Pat O'Brien and Anne Sheridan, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES.
And so we have today's victim, which probably has some of the greatest single scenes and characters in film history. Surely it may well be the quintessential Gangster-Young Toughs movie from the Golden Era of the Sound Film (formerly called "Talkies".) I mean this ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES seemingly has just about anything you could want. We have an opening scene in the "old Neighborhood" where the principal characters of Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) and Fr. Jerry Connelly (Pat O'Brien) had spent their youth as tough, street guys. The Juveniles playing the young men are Rocky (young Cagney look-alike, Frankie Burke) and Fr. Connelly (William Tracy).
The pivotal incident occurs when the two young friends are walking (trespassing) through the Train Yards when they happen on some box car has cases of fountain pens, which they decide to pilfer. The Railroads Dicks come along, and in attempting to flee the scene, young Rocky gets caught and sent to Reform School; but refuses to implicate Jerry on anyone else.
We're next treated to a montage of Rocky's headlines and hold-ups. Meanwhile, Jerry winds up going to the Seminary to study for the Priesthood.
Well, years pass and we have a great reunion, back in the old 'hood" where one man is now the Parish Priest, the other an up and coming ex-con and racketeer. Oh, yeah I almost forgot to mention! Anne Sheridan is there; her character also was a child of the old stompin'grounds.
We're not going to elaborate on the re-cap of the story any more. We all know the story, more or less. The two friends from the same old neighborhood, running together as kids and one becomes a Priest, the other a Hood. One ends up paying the price, but can do a great service to the other and the current kids in the area. Could this be just a trifle cliché ridden? It seems that way because this was the one movie that set the standards and invented the complex situations that were so widely imitated.
And that friends adds up to a one of a kind, singular, masterpiece of the cinematic arts and a huge slice of what America and its people are really all about.
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