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*** 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.
"Angels with Dirty Faces", despite its popularity and classic status,
is far from my favorite James Cagney role. The moralizing gets in the
way and dates this significantly more than "The Public Enemy" (which
came out before the code really started cracking down) and "White Heat"
(which came later when the production code became increasingly lax and
crime films more hard boiled). Still, its more than watchable, because
even in a watered down film, Cagney could always be counted on for a
terrific performance. He creates a truly multi-dimensional character,
one who is capable of evoking audience sympathy despite his flaws. He's
a much more compelling individual than Pat O'Brien's priest.
The rest of the cast is uneven. O'Brien does a good job with a rather dull role. Its interesting to see Humphrey Bogart, who went on to playing stoic tough guys in his later parts, playing such a weasel-like coward. He isn't very good, but its still intriguing to see where he started out. Ann Sheridan isn't very good as the girl with the heart of gold who wants to help out Cagney, and the Bowery Boys can become rather annoying (even though not nearly as much as their later starring features). Still, Cagney completely upstages the rest of the cast with a fantastic performance. "Angels with Dirty Faces" is highly recommended simply because of him. (7/10)
Towards the end of the 1930s something began to change in the crime
genre. It was no longer acceptable merely to show the gangster getting
killed at the end the protagonists of pictures such as Public Enemy,
Little Caesar and Scarface (1932) were still getting viewed as heroes.
Now, with the Hayes code in full swing, attempts were being made to
make the gangster appear un-heroic. The most prominent of these
efforts, Angels with Dirty Faces sees the ultimate crime actor of his
era, James Gagney, in a gangster movie with a difference.
Needless to say, with the agenda it has, Angels with Dirty Faces has its moralistic and preachy moments. Large parts of it however are more or less the same as any other crime flick of the era, with bootleg liquor, underhand deals with corrupt officials, a sleazy lawyer (Humphrey Bogart), a moll (Ann Sheridan) and plenty of storytelling via newspaper headlines. The problem here is that on the one hand none of these crime story elements are fully fleshed out, dull stock subplots reducing Bogart and Sheridan to little more than bit parts. And on the other hand, the Christian moralism and in particular the last minute twist seem tacked on and hard to swallow.
The direction on Angels with Dirty Faces was handled by Michael Curtiz, and this is one of its saving graces. The picture opens with a typical Curtiz crowd shot. The way he moves the camera is absolutely unique, and there are a number of visual gags such as the "men at work" sign which opens the scene where the dead end kids are trying to jimmy open a fruit machine. And at least, it being Curtiz, you know the action sequences will be well done. It's all done in memorable shots and lightning-fast editing, so the audience gets a brief yet clear impression of the violence without ever dwelling on it.
The other saving grace to this picture is of course James Cagney, one of the most talented stars of the classic Hollywood era. Of course, he was right to break out of type-casting and seek more diverse roles in the 1940s, but he plays the gangster so well. This is a great chance to see him at the top of his game.
This would have to be my least favourite picture of Cagney's gangster-cycle that I have seen. It's very much a product of its time, and simply gets bogged down in its message. Still, there's just enough here to make it watchable. And at least it's better than that stupid Sham 69 song.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Iwatched this movie on DVD the other day,it brought back memories of watching old movies on a Sunday afternoon at my grandmothers.This film in many ways,is one of the finest gangster movies ever made, Cagney's performance as Rocky Sullivan is as fresh today as it ever was, the story starts when two young boys try to steal from a rail car, they are chased and the slower one becomes a gangster the quicker one a priest.Cagney's gangster is a free spirit, but he ends up working for the mob lead by George Bancroft and Humphrey Bogart, Cagney takes the rap and goes to jail for 4 years, on coming out he wants back in to the organisation which puts heat on the crime bosses.Cagney meets his old friend the priest and their friendship is renewed.The priest is concerned the the dead end kids will grow up into a life of crime as they admire Cagneys lifestyle and the easy way to get money.The priest starts a reform movement backed by the news-media.Bogart decides the priest must go but Rocky will not let his old friend be harmed, the situation ends in violence and Cagney is sentenced to death in the chair.Cagney is not scared about dying, however the priest asks him to feign cowardice on the way to the chair, Cagney refuses the old friends shake hands then make their way down the last mile, just as Cagney is been put in the chair he screams and dies yellow.The priest sees the dead end kids and informs them that he died a coward and says lets say a prayer for a boy who could not run as fast as me.The DVD is supberb I hope this film is discoverer by a new generation because this a supberb movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The story seems to be well known, as well as the Warner Brothers "enveloping" their straight forward crime action into some moral commentary or some warm words of "Crime doesn't pay". However, it takes a relentless tongue-in-cheek actor like Pat O'Brien to carry this message thru. And turning a tough-as-hell criminal like James Cagney to a yellow coward in the last minute for the sake of saving others from following in his footsteps ? That forgiven, we get a nice little action packed movie, with H. Bogart in a secondary role, in which he couldn't outlive a bigger name of that time like Cagney. (They actually never made a movie later, when his improved status would have allowed for that). So, all in all, 1 out 10 taken out for the morale, it is 7 points still.
i seen this film for the first time many years ago and i was totally gripped by the story and cagneys performance,the kids were wonderful also.i seen it again more recently and i liked it even more as this time i could look at it from a 28 year olds perspective.it really touched me father connollys love and feeling of protectiveness for his old friend and yet he realized that rocky was gone beyond his influence.i thought that bogart was great as well and ann sheridan who was carrying a secret torch for rocky since childhood.i am sorry to hear that one of the kids bobby jordan died at only 42 from alcohol poisoning as he looks so young and innocent in this film,the end is powerful and always puts a lump in my throat when rocky makes the supreme sacrifice for the kids i hope that they never do a remake of this film as you cant improve on perfection.
Angels with dirty faces is a masterpiece and a credit to the whole
motion picture industry. James Cagney is mind blowing along with the
rest of the cast which all deliver a breath taking performance.
I am not a big fan of the black and white genre but this film is the exception to the rule. whether it had been done in colour or black and white you would still have the same effect and thats the beauty of this film. its not the photography or the sets, its the top class acting and a story which will have you wanting to watch it over and over again. very few films come along like angels with dirty faces so please find a copy and watch it. I promise you won't be disappointed.
This movie was very good and it was definitely Cagney in one of his
better roles. I gave this movie a 9/10 because I felt Rocky Sullivan
seemed a little bit too soft compared to Cagney in "White Heat" which
was his best role. It wouldn't have hurt to have wrote a better script
but there were some flawless scenes that made up for this fact.
Humphrey Bogart was good in a familiar sleazy role and other than the
couple comments I had before, they were really the only negative things
about it. It's still a very entertaining movie and I thoroughly enjoyed
practically every minute of it. I'm glad I watched the original black
and white version compared to the colorized one since they always come
out so ugly. I'm definitely psyched to seeing some more classic Cagney
flicks in the future.
Movies : This would be awesome to see in theaters.
DVD Purchase : Possibly, if they ever release it.
Rental : I would rent this again in a heartbeat!
the dead end kids, with mugsy, combined with cagney have created a classic new york neighborhood picture. the storyis great and cagney shows that gangster is in his soul the orginial gangster, who attended stuyvesant high school of new york located on east 15 street .the old location, cagney was new york, and he shines in this role, and the others all are great. see it over and over.
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