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

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Whaddya hear, whaddya say?

Author: JoeytheBrit from
15 May 2007

I watched this for the first time in maybe twenty years the other day, and it was a little like coming face-to-face with a rarely seen uncle you used to worship as a child. Twenty years later, it still looks good, but somehow some of the charisma has worn away. Perhaps it's me that's changed and not the film, but whatever the reason, I've knocked a couple of stars off its rating.

Cagney is one of my favourites, and he was at his peak here, despite his ongoing battles with Warners. He's his typically pugnacious self, strutting across the screen, nervously hitching his shoulders and stretching his neck as if his collar is too tight, delivering back-handers with a curled lip. Bogart is unrecognisable from his later persona, a weasely lawyer out to cheat Cagney's Rocky Sullivan out of the $100,000 he owes him. It's almost the same role he played in The Roaring Twenties, their other outing from the same period, and it's a shame that they never played against each other once Bogie's tough-guy persona had been perfected. Just imagine what sparks could have flown then.

The main reasons the film didn't quite live up to my expectations/memories are two-fold. Firstly, the Dead End Kids are just downright annoying with their endless yelling and sniping. Out of them, for me, it's only Leo Gorcey who comes out with any credibility, the rest are just interchangeable yells with no depth or characterisation. The other problem is the pious saintliness of Pat O'Brien's Father Connelly. Cagney acts the socks off him, because he sounds like a Noo Yawk gangster, while O'Brien sounds like no one I've ever met – priest or otherwise. It's not necessarily his fault – it's the way those parts were played back then – but there it is. He is also the most impotent of characters, unable to coax the kids away from the life of crime into which they're drifting, unable even to come up with any ideas of how to do so…

Despite those – admittedly small – gripes, the film is still a great way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon. Cagney slips into his role with ease, and demands your attention in every scene. The story zips along, and the ending, of course, is a classic – possibly the greatest open-ended finale in movie history. Did Rocky turn yellow? I don't think so, somehow. He acts too bravely throughout the rest of the movie to become a coward in the final scene, and that core of decency in Sullivan is always visible.

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Well-done gangster who'll always be a gangster movie...

Author: dwpollar from Evansville, Indiana USA
7 May 2007

1st watched 5/6/2007 - 7 out of 10(Dir-Michael Curtiz): Well-done gangster who'll always be a gangster movie with James Cagney playing a boy who gets caught trying to steal cases of ball point pens and ends up staying in jail for many years after(not for the same offense). He then learns how to better the system and never stays in for very long. His friend and partner in the original crime becomes a priest in their old neighborhood and tries to keep the current kids out of trouble so they won't turn out like he and his partner did. The gang in the neighborhood(played by the future Bowery boys) initially look at Cagney's character as a hero to them(always getting out of jail scot free), but his priest friend hopes that will end. His efforts aren't working very well, so he decides to go against him publicly after Cagney pulls the boys into his own problems by making them hide some of his "hot" money. This movie is really about their friendship and how it stays despite their issues against each other. Pat O'Brien, as the priest, sticks with Cagney all the way to the very end, trying to get him to change his ways. Cagney is charismatic and watchable and the rest of the cast play their characters well in this drama with a heart. It's a good watchable movie experience overall although it doesn't have the grit of more modern fare, but the story keeps you interested all the way thru.

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Much more than run of the mill

Author: itsmits from United States
18 December 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The popularity of this film is evidenced obviously by the abundance of comments elicited. Considering the passage of time since it was first introduced to the public, this is a tribute to its durability through at least three generations. This octogenarian never ceases to be amazed at the whimsy of fate; the vagaries of chance which can play havoc with one's life or raise it to unbelievable heights. Maybe that is why the most memorable line from the film was from the advertising department. The billboard campaign mounted by Warner Bros. proclaimed to one and all, ' Last one over the fence goes to the electric chair !! '

As it did in "Manhattan Melodrama" some four years before, chums of boyhood remain friends for life despite the divergent paths decreed by fate. And the fact that the viewers comments are not overwhelmingly of one persuasion is a good indication that the final production is a work of art. The artist wants the viewer to form his own opinion of the final scene. Miss viewing this at your own loss.

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pure brilliance

Author: MrBlonde01 from United Kingdom
16 November 2006

If you have not seen this film then you must go and get it immediately, if you like gangster films of any kind, then i guarantee that you will love this film. James Cagney gives another spectacular performance, though not as gritty as his other films, such as The Public Enemy. The character development is superb, showing the two main characters as children right through to adulthood. It is very easy to see that this film has influenced some of the finest gangster films since its release. Do not be put off by its age, it is by no means dated, it shows the true harshness of a gangsters nature while still depicting deep meaning in the friendship of 'Rockey' (Cagney) and 'Jerry' (Pat O'Brian) with an ending that will have you completely amazed.

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Whattayahear? A Great Film!

Author: sharkey197 from United States
15 July 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As a teacher of critical viewing, I've spent the last year trying to convince my jaded kids of several things, mainly that Black and white films don't necessarily stink and that films without overt violence can be great because of their stories. This film came along late in the school year, and I was determined to show it because I thought it introduced them to some elements that they needed to see, esp James Cagney.

While there were a few carpers who said the shootings were "phony", a surprising number of kids really took to it. For the first time, kids were actually saying, 'I think this film worked better in black and white than it would have in color' and they loved the ending. A few actually felt it was daring to show such an intense ending in 1938. It sparked good discussions on the escalation of violence in today's movies and the use of shadow and light to get across a mood. In reading the opinions of the classes, there really wasn't a single negative opinion and I was pleasantly surprised to realize that they had come a long way in their estimation of films.

Today's kids really see so much crap in the movies. Most movies today are really poorly made, they have no script or character development to speak of and the comedies are mindless and vulgar. When you can get kids to appreciate something of quality, you feel good--like you've struck a blow for cultural advancement.

And for days after, some kids would walk into the room and "Whattya hear? Whattya say?" Can there be any better tribute?

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What dya hear? What dya say?

Author: Mark Palfreeman ( from Bradford, England
2 May 2006

Angel's With Dirty Faces is a very 1930's take on the criminal underworld that existed during the prohibition era. It is a far cry from the Godfather or Goodfellas but there is a certain romance in that. The story surrounds a gangster named Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) who is idolised by some young boys, much to the annoyance of his childhood friend priest Father Connelly (Pat O'Brien). As he pursues his life of crime, Sullivan is torn between his reputation as a hard man and the pleads from his friend to set a better example to the children. The film is filled with moments of action and suspense, but isn't that fast paced. However it has a good story with important ideals and is well executed by an early master of the genre in Cagney. It is well directed and features some wonderful early media techniques. It is interesting to watch today as its strong story makes it remain a very watchable film, but also to see how boundaries within the genre have changed.

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Don't follow in his footsteps, kids

Author: Jem Odewahn from Australia
28 April 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a great gangster film starring Cagney that may well the best of it's type that Warner Bros produced in the 30's, definitely taking it's place alongside 'Scarface' and 'The Public Enemy'. It's a roaring, all-guns blazing ride that is magnificently directed by Michael Cutiz. A versatile director, who also made 'The Adventures Of Robin Hood' around the same times as this and the great 'Casablanca' just a few years later, he is sorely underrated. Cagney's performance as Rocky Sullivan makes the film what it is, though- a true CLASSIC.

Growing up as a child in the tough Hell's Kitchen district of New York, Rocky and his chum Jerry Connolly look set for a life in crime. However, Jerry escapes the law and ends up in an honest profession as a priest. Rocky drifts further into crime as he ages, and when the pair meet up again in the old neighborhood, the differences in the way their lives have turned out are marked. Rocky is mixing in with the neighborhood kids that Connolly is trying to keep on the straight as he holes up before he can get into his old racketeering organization again, much to Connolly's distaste. The kids begin to idolize this 'heroic' figure of crime, taking more notice of him than the priest.

As the tag line advertises, this is a 'sensational human drama'. Instead of providing us with a written prelude like 'Scarface' that condemns crime, here we are SHOWN exactly why 'romantic' figures like Sullivan are dangerous through the actions of the kids. The idolatry of gangster/crime figures during the tough days of the Depression was pronounced, with men like Rocky often getting more admiration from the kids of the slums than any straight man of the law. 'Angels' gives us an overall message that crime definitely does not pay, at least when it comes to your soul. There is something terribly disturbing about watching young boys of 14-15 in training to be gangsters. This one will shatter the idealized myths that 'Bonnie And Clyde' may give you about gangster figures, and send their portrayal down to reality. Cagney's own act of turning 'yellow' on O'Brien's pleadings just before death is enough to break their own mythical ideal, and yours, too. The only sympathy for Cagney's Sullivan that you will feel is that the man 'couldn't run fast enough' away from crime as a young kid, becoming embroiled further when he went to a 'reform' school.

Cagney gives a brilliant performance in this one, and his interaction with the now-straight Pat O'Brien provide the highlight of the piece. Ann Sheridan is average in her role as Rocky's girlfriend, although she handles a couple of key emotional scenes with surprising depth. Bogart is in the background in one of his small gangster roles before he would hit the big time a few years later. This has the gritty feel of a true crime drama, with excellent photography and a grim, tough setting in New York adding to the mood of the picture.

This has one of the great endings in film history, with a great closing line. A powerful film that will stay in your memory for a long time.

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Whadda ya hear! Whadda ya say!

Author: James Alex Neve from London, UK
19 March 2006

A Cagney classic, dealing with all the morals and ambiguities of gangsterism and growing up on the wrong side of the tracks. James Cagney is Rocky Sullivan, a well known gangster who's relationship with childhood friend, and new-born Christian Jerry Connolly is jeopardised when Rocky takes on a young brood of would-be hoodlums. Jerry doesn't like them looking up to a gangster, Rocky just wants to earn a buck. Soon they find themselves in a war that could spell the end of their relationship.

'Angels With Dirty Faces' deals with themes of lost childhood by contrasting two former friends who took very different paths after their young years. Sullivan took the easy route of petty crime, eventually becoming a gangster. Connolly, who could have fallen into the same trap, decides to enter the priesthood, with his street smarts intact, in order to try to and prevent young New Yorkers from following Sullivan's suit. The film also shows Cagney's character as a man of conflicting morals: he wants to help out Jerry at the church and aid his former friend's plight to protect the younger generation from succumbing to corruption, yet gets them to perform errands for him in exchange for big bucks. The "Dead End" kids look up to Rocky more than Jerry because they like who he is: A gangster, a man who came from nothing but made it to the top by stealing, gambling and fighting.

The film has a fantastic cast: There is able support from Humphrey Bogart as a lawyer to George Bancroft's crime boss, playing slightly against type. The only role that is somewhat underused comes from the possible love interest for Rocky, Laury Ferguson (Ann Sheridan). Aside from one great scene in which she meets Sullivan for the first time in 15 years, her character is relegated to a back room observer. Pat O'Brien's turn as Jerry is wonderfully underplayed for it's time. But it is inevitably Cagney's show, as his screen presence is brimming with bravura and spirit.

Sullivan is the epitome of an anti-hero. He's a man of principles and feels for his former neighbourhood, yet can't put his past behind him. There are obvious influences, a modern day one being The Sopranos, in particular the protagonist Tony Soprano, who borrows from the complexity of Cagney's character. One minute you route for him as the hero, the next you see him for the exploitative mobster he is. The final scene is one that could never be pulled off in today's cinemas. Of a man who chooses the selfless act over pride in order to aid his childhood friend.

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Practically Perfect In Every Way

Author: Shearer_Goddard_Russell from United States
4 March 2006

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.

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Brilliant stuff from James Cagney

Author: Chris Gaskin from Derby, England
30 January 2006

*** 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.

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