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Angels with Dirty Faces
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Angels with Dirty Faces More at IMDbPro »

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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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Whaddya hear?

Author: Camoo from United States
7 January 2010

*** 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.

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What do you hear? What do you say?

Author: bobsgrock from United States
12 October 2009

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.

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Cagney: A True Craftsman At Work

Author: MartynGryphon from Coventry, England
31 July 2009

*** 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 big house'.

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.


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A signature WB 'Gangster' film...

Author: cordaro9418 from United States
18 April 2009

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!

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