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The best thing about this film is that it really feels like an ensemble
piece. Each actor is in perfect balance with another and the chemistry
is like magic.
Nominated for an Academy Award, James Cagney gives one of the best performances of his career as the gangster-with-a-heart Rocky Sullivan. Like always, his work is flawless and natural, and even while playing a crook he can make you care for his character. Ann Sheridan makes an otherwise boring character into a girl you can really sympathize with. Then of course there's Bogart, the guy you're used to seeing as brave, fearless, and always ahead of the competition. In 'Angels' he plays a crooked lawyer, and while at times I wince to see him being afraid, I have to hand it to Bogart for really pulling through as an actor. Oh, and I almost forgot Pat O'Brien. As the wrong-turned-right priest in the movie, he brings a sensitive, kind element to the picture (and also reminds me of Karl Malden's Father Berry in 'On the Waterfront').
The other players who cannot be ignored in this movie are the title characters themselves, the Dead End Kids. Their first film was 1937's Dead End, and I thought they owned that movie. Any scene without them seemed colorless and boring. In 'Angels,' they mesh perfectly with the other characters and do not overshadow anybody. Though technically it seems they play the same people as they did in 'Dead End' (e.g. Billy Halop their leader and Leo Gorcey the trouble-makers), the scene with their basketball game is one of the film's best moments.
'Angels With Dirty Faces' comes highly recommended, to any fan of Cagney, Bogart, Sheridan, brilliant director Michael Curtiz, or the Dead End Kids. Or even if you just love movies and want to get to know the classics, this is a great place to start.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Angels With Dirty Faces had to be one of Jimmy Cagney's best movies,
along with White Heat.
In this one, he plays Rocky Sullivan, a gangster who has been in and out of prison for most of his life. After being released for the latest time, he is reunited with his childhood friend who is now a priest. It's not long before he's up to his old tricks again though and towards the end, he kills two men including his solicitor and after a shoot out, he gets the electric chair. He does find a woman as well.
This has a great score by Max Steiner (King Kong) and some great location photography.
Cagney is joined by Pat O'Brien, Humphery Bogart as his solicitor, Anne Sheridan as the love interest and George Bancroft. With The Dead End Kids. Excellent parts from all.
Angels With Dirty Faces is a must for all classic movie fans. Great stuff.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
The film is a great example of another age in movie-making. It's an
action movie, with plenty of violence, including gunfights, killings,
explosions, and near slapstick fisticuffs, but there is also plenty of
lingering moments to go with the wise-cracking and tough-guy posing,
not to mention the moralizing that appears more than once. Cagney is at
his best as a tough-guy gangster, and Pat O'Brien plays the
stereotypical Irish priest with a heart of gold. You'll want to forget
that Bogart plays a weasel of a lawyer who dies a coward.
My favorites are the young men who play the gangster wanna-be's. Their voices, accents, and lines of dialog make them a memorable part of a film that most people remember for Cagney as Rocky Sullivan and O'Brien as Jerry Connelly. The physical humor too makes them stand out, slap-happy characters as much like the Little Rascals or the Three Stooges as they are hoodlums. Cagney too is excellent in his antics.
It's in an early scene that Sullivan's and Connelly's lives diverge from the small-time crooks they appear on their way to be. The two are running from the cops and one leaps over the fence and gets away while the other is caught and sent to reform school. It's worth asking yourself what that moral in the film seems to be.
It's a great old action film, but be sure to note the story as what Hollywood offered in 1938 as a look into the status of crime and the celebrity of criminals (Cagney was the same age as Al Capone, and Bonnie and Clyde had only recently been killed). The film attempts to explore the root causes of crime, poverty among them, and offers up some ideas about reformation.
Later movies might glorify criminals. This one doesn't.
One the my all-time favorites growing up as a kid! Even today this ending is such a conversation piece of why? Back then when it comes down to it our troubles of youth and how we progress as adults has not changed much in today's society.Such as the Robert Frost poem "Road not Taken" you get to see the effects of two different youths and how they progress to adulthood.The role Of Rocky Sullivan people must see in every neighborhood,how could you not like this guy? Father Connolly character could be changed to a schoolteacher to show how one's path could make the difference,especially in the end. I think an updated remake would make kids think about right from wrong and who to choose as a role model.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I remember the first time I seen this film, I was 13 and my Religious
Education teacher in school made up watch it, well we ended up watching
the first 40 minutes then he never mentioned it again. I still to this
day do not have a single clue as to why he made us watch it, he was an
odd fellow to say the least. After he never put it back on for us I
decided to rent it to finally watch the whole thing this was when I was
about 16/17, and it is safe to say this is one of the movies that made
me fall in love with movies to this day! Gangster films flew to the top
of the watch lists during the great depression era in America, there
was so many released during the 1930's it was obvious that they would
be the more favoured films. James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson paved
the for gangsters on the big screen. Cagney was a perfect choice to
play Rocky Sullivan, he had the swagger of a gangster, the fast talking
of a con man, had unbelievable comic timing along with these great
traits he was also an intense actor with real raw talent.
In my honest opinion this is one of the greatest Gangster flicks of all time, and I genuinely think people will be saying that in another three quarters of a century! Rocky Sullivan and Jerry Connelly played by Frankie Burke and William Tracy respectively are a pair of New Yorker youths who grew up on the very poor Lower East Side end up caught up in the robbery on a railroad car (a railway carriage to us Brits ha). Jerry escapes without any difficulty I mean boom this kid is gone, Rocky on the other hand is not as lucky. Staying true to his tough upbringing Rocky upholds his "code of silence", refusing to snitch on the identity of his accomplice which leaves Rocky stuck in a reformatory before he will be bumped into a full prison.
After realising how bad Rockys fate actually is, Jerry turns his life around and becomes a man of the cloth. After many years pass, Rocky returns to his old neighbourhood now being played by Cagney he looks up his old friend Jerry to find out he is no Father Jerry (Pat O'Brien) whom has taken in on himself to look after a rag tag bunch of boys played by Billy Halop, Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Gabriel Dell who would all go to become The Dead End Kids. The boys are overjoyed that they get to meet a big-time gangster like Rocky, they pretty much worship the ground he walks on, much to the disappointment of Father Jerry who is trying to guard the boys from a life of crime.
Cagney pays a call to his Lawyer, played by Humphrey Bogart who has been keeping $100,000 (which according to DollarTimes is roughly $1.6 million today) stashed away for him. He meets racketeering boss Mac Keefer (George Bancroft), both of whom promise to cut Rocky in on a highly lucrative operations, however this is where we hit a twist they are plotting to have him whacked (MY WHOLE LIFE have I wanted to use that phrase and it too actually work, and now I think it fits! ha) Father Jerry runs a campaign over the radio and newspaper against Rocky and his partners, with Rockys blessing that is. Laury by now played by the beautiful Ann Sheridan has fallen in love with Rocky.
When Rocky learns of the plot to kill Father Jerry due to his smear campaign, Rocky kills both men which results in him being caught in a shoot-out with the police in a warehouse. His trial is quick and he is sentenced to death, before Rocky is about to be executed Father Jerry turns up asking for possibly the BIGGEST favour in movie history. He wants Rocky to die like a coward so the boys will go on the straight and narrow, Rocky refuses, however as he is being put to death Rocky suddenly breaks down an loses it crying and pleading for his life! The paper the next runs the story "ROCKY DIES YELLOW!" to help the boys cement the belief that he well and truly is coward.
So overall this movie is action filled, full of laughs, full of great performances all across the board giving us viewers an unbelievable movie experience! A little fact I learnt while writing this review is that during the warehouse scene, LIVE AMMO was used, how on earth did they get away with that ha. All these parts come together cultivating in what is one of the greatest movies of all time! This will be one of the easiest ratings that I will give to a film, if I could go any higher than 10 I would! "Whaddya hear, whaddya say?"
*** 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.
Gangster Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) has the world by the
you-know-what. And then he takes a group of kids under his wing after
they try to pickpocket him. But things get complicated when Father
Jerry (Pat O'Brien) gets involved... he grew up with Rocky and
tolerates his crimes, but cannot allow another generation to turn
My editor, Jim, a former movie critic says, "Not a big fan of that one, largely because I don't like Pat O'Brien (even though he does star in my favorite newspaper movie, The Front Page, 1931... but that's great in spite of him). Cagney is great in it. Bogie had yet to break from the lower ranks at Warner Bros." In some regards, I agree, and not in others.
I have no issue with O'Brien. I thought the character of Jerry was a bit odd... a priest who turns against his gangster friend (and mysteriously the gangster never gets upset about this). But that was the character, and O'Brien played him well. Cagney is "great", and perhaps too much so, as he can now really only be seen as a gangster.
The moral message is strange. It's okay for Rocky to be a criminal, it's okay for him to rough up kids, but not okay to teach them about crime (which even the priest admits does pay). The final scene, which I cannot talk about, is especially odd. The motivation of the Rocky character is unclear. But all in all, a decent film, even if not on the level of Scorsese's gangster flicks.
*** 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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Michael Curtiz's Angels with Dirty Faces can be considered a
full-blooded, no-holds-barred genre classic for a few reasons. One of
it is how well he depicts the "hero" worship of street-tough kids who
look up to the next generation of super street-tough and street-wise
hoodlums. The Dead End Kids- an actual gang of sorts who acted in this
and another movie- look to James Cagney's Rocky Sullivan since, first
and foremost, he came out of the neighborhood and the very building
that they hang out of (the initials, along with those of Sullivan's
boyhood friend turned Priest Jerry, are carved on the wall). But also
there's the persona of Rocky Sullivan, a guy who wont take no s*** off
of cops OR the criminals, and will do things his way or a highway
burned to a crisp.
And, perhaps underneath this, for all of the ruthless things that Rocky Sullivan does, he's honest. There's a genuine quality to him while he occasionally lies, cheats, steals, whatever as a 1930s era gangster is want to do. This is what makes it extra powerful then when, right before he's sent to the electric chair, the Priest asks him to lie outright and act like he turned yellow for the Dead End Kids and others to see how he turned out. Apparently there's another version of this ending where this didn't happen, and oddly enough I prefer the version I saw with the turning yellow.
This is not just because of Cagney's performance, which already up until now is just about legendary in proportion. There's an underlying message with it being the priest that asks this of him. Now, part of this has to do with them being friends and that there's this trust between them. But there's also the fact that it's a priest, a man of the cloth, using God and his will and life-after-death as a means to get some scaring back into the kids as opposed to the usual hero worship. It doesn't matter that the kids aren't told the truth, but that Jerry will know that it wasn't true, but puts up the front anyway. This is a classic ending that works on multiple levels.
Speaking of Cagney, there's no way one can say they are a fan of the star without checking this out. Here is one of the quintessential performances of all time in ANY gangster or crime picture. This lends itself, of course, to the fact that Rocky Sullivan is such an interesting character as the dark half of the face that was Rocky and Jerry as kids (one could see a similar split take shape in an underlying or existential sense in Scorsese's movies of this ilk). But it's Cagney that imbues it with real guts and tenacity; he knows this guy so well that he doesn't have to break a sweat at doing a big dramatic scene, such as the big shoot-out at the end, or even in the smaller scenes where he doesn't take lip from Bogart (also in very fine form, seeing two giants face off is an added bonus) where little facial markers and moments make it so memorable. He's a natural at this because simply he sets the pacing just right for the scene and rolls with it to the logical end. One can see process being worked out right on the screen but with the seemingly effortless grace of a class act.
It's also, I should also add, a very cool story, one that even as it's set in the late 1930s loses little of its resonance for today; a story like this could just as easily be shot in the same environment as say the City of God underworld in Rio, where one rises up through the ranks with some ferocity and also a little help from crooked cops or politicians, and then the next generation already lining up, and one or two good apples in the bunch. Oh, and it's got very fast and cutting action scenes, which never hurts when done right.
It's mostly a movie that is made great by its Oscar-nominated story.
It's a typical '30's gangster movie only with a more humane and
dramatic twist to it, in which two childhood friends find each other on
the other side of the law, despite still having a strong friendship.
It's not necessarily Michael Curtiz his best directed movie and it also
doesn't feature Cagney or Bogart in their best or most memorable roles
but it nevertheless is one great solid movie, that you'll not easily
The movie might sound like a really preachy and moralistic one that condemns violence and says that is's better to come to church. Even though this perhaps in a nutshell is still what this movie is all about, the movie itself luckily doesn't ever get preachy or moralistic like. This is not just due to the fine written of the movie but also thanks to the performances of the lead actors, that mostly make the movie and its story work out so effectively and realistic.
Humphrey Bogart plays a sort of villainous gangster role in this one. He really wasn't an established actor yet back then and he's also third billed actor for this movie. It really wasn't until the '40's that he really finally had his big breakthrough and became an established actor and started playing leading roles in some big well known successful movies, such as of course "Casablanca" and "The Maltese Falcon". But of course the human face of the movie is being provided by James Cagney, who shows the realistic and human side of a tough hoodlum. Cagney is mostly known for his tough roles of course but he could also really play some more 'soft' characters and he actually starred in some musicals and romantic movies as well during his career. The other main part of the movie is being played by Pat O'Brien, a former tough guy from the neighborhood who used to hang out with the Cagney character but has now turned into a priest. Even though O'Brein isn't now days as well known as Cagney or Bogart, he still was a big and well known actor, especially during the '30's and '40's. He actually played in a total of 9 movies together with Cagney and 5 with Bogart, often in front of Bogart as the movie's main lead.
Gangster movies was popular genre in the '30's, with other genre examples such as "Little Caesar", "The Public Enemy" and "Scarface, the Shame of the Nation" being released during the same decade. Especially Warner Bros. was leading with it. Nevertheless, "Angels with Dirty Faces" is still a movie that knows to be different and original within its genre. It's the story that makes this movie original as well as effective and memorable. Especially the ending is great and memorable. The movie constantly kept me waiting for the trademark Michael Curtiz use of shadows during its key moments but there it finally was at the ending. Lots of things come together at the end and it makes the movie as a whole an even better and more powerful one. Even more so than it already was before that point.
Besides its writing, the movie also received Oscar nominations for its directing, by Michael Curtiz and James Cagney for his role of Rocky Sullivan. It was Cagney's first ever Oscar nomination and he actually won his only Oscar 4 years later for his role in "Yankee Doodle Dandy", which also got directed by Michael Curtiz.
"Angels with Dirty Faces" is more dramatic, more involving and therefor perhaps also more memorable than the usual '30's gangster movie.
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