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Although Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan are the romantic leads here,
the film really belongs to the Dead End Kids. Angels Wash Their Faces
is NOT a sequel to Angels With Dirty Faces, it doesn't come close to
that classic. Still it's an enjoyable film.
The Dead End Kids are joined by Frankie Thomas and Bonita Granville who Warner Brothers had been using in their Nancy Drew series. In those films Granville was the lead and poor Thomas was her earnest boyfriend who she got involved in all of her cases. Here Thomas is the lead and Granville his romantic interest and would you believe, Leo Gorcey's sister. That's nothing, in one of the Bowery Boy features Gorcey got a young Ava Gardner as his sister.
There's been a rash of fires in the neighborhood, somebody's got a nice little arson racket going. The crooks try to pin this on Frankie Thomas who's a new kid moved into the neighborhood with his sister Ann Sheridan. Ronald Reagan as the Assistant District Attorney reluctantly prosecutes.
What happens then is Dead End Kid leader Billy Halop gets himself elected boy mayor of the city and uses the power of office quite creatively to help Thomas and find the arsonists. Some arcane laws which are still on the books turn out to be of real value.
Best in the cast is Frankie Thomas who's quite appealing as the kid in trouble and Bernard Nedell as the slick crook who gets quite a comeuppance from the Dead End Kids.
Fans of the Kids will like this one.
A sequel to Angels With Dirty Faces in name only, The Angels Wash
Faces suffers somewhat from the usual shenanigans of the Dead End
As a matter of fact, with the presence of the Dead End Kids and Ann
this should have been treated as an actual sequel to Angels With Dirty
Faces, at least for continuity's sake.
Speaking of Ann Sheridan, she is the one true shining light of this movie. To paraphrase a cliché, Ann Sheridan could read from a phone book for two hours and I would buy the DVD!
Another virtue of this movie is the chemistry between Ann Sheridan and Ronald Reagan. Unfortunately , this aspect of the film is kept too far in the background. For a better example of the Sheridan-Reagan duo I would recommend Juke Girl or Kings Row.
ANGELS WASH THEIR FACES is an obvious attempt to capitalize on the
popularity of the previous ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, but emerges as a
vehicle for the Dead End Kids rather than giving ANN SHERIDAN or RONALD
REAGAN a chance to demonstrate their chemistry.
If you happen to be a fan of The Kids, this film is up your alley. They seem more like delinquents than real gangsters (by today's standards), while Sheridan and Reagan try to resolve the problems they create involving a wrongly accused case of arson.
Ray Enright keeps it all moving rather briskly, but the script--with its focus on the kids rather than the stars--is a disappointment for fans of Sheridan and Reagan.
The cast includes the usual Warner stock company of contract players, including Bonita Granville, Henry O'Neill, Eduardo Ciannelli, Frankie Thomas and Margaret Hamilton.
Summing up: Routine crime drama interesting only for a glimpse of Ann Sheridan and Ronald Reagan at an early stage of their careers.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I don't have much to add to what has been said before, but it's very
much a film of it's time, and the first (and likely only) time that the
studio hung the film totally on the Dead End Kids.
The Warner's gave the boys plenty of help, from director Ray Enright and an 'A' budget, to an almost magical cast of supporting actors. At every turn, we get one of those gem performances from real pros. They are too many to list, but it seems like just about everybody on the Warner's lot (Sans the very biggest stars) walk through this picture. (See if you can spot John Ridgely)
The only over the top performance is from the always reliable Eduardo Cianelli as a mob boss with a messianistic complex. He plays this character almost exactly like that of the Thuggie leader in "Gunga Din". He's something to watch! And Marjorie Main is excellent and gets her best role since "Dead End".
My bid for this one is a second feature on a double bill with something like "City for Conquest".
Hooray for Warners!
The film begins with a bunch of kids in reform school and focuses on a
kid named 'Gabe', who has apparently worked hard to earn his parole.
Gabe and his sister move to a new neighborhood to make a fresh start
and soon Gabe meets up with the Dead End Kids. The Kids in this film
are little punks, but they are much less antisocial than they'd been in
other previous films and down deep, they are well-meaning punks.
However, in this neighborhood there are also some criminals who are
perpetrating insurance fraud through arson and see Gabe as a convenient
scapegoat--after all, he'd been to reform school and no one would
believe he was innocent once he was framed. So, when Gabe is about
ready to be sent back to "The Big House", it's up to the rest of the
gang to save him and expose the real crooks.
The "Dead End Kids" appeared in several Warner Brothers films in the late 1930s and the films were generally very good (particularly ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES). However, after the boys' contracts expired, they went on to Monogram Studios and the films, to put it charitably, were very weak and formulaic--with Huntz Hall and Leo Gorcey being pretty much the whole show and the group being renamed "The Bowery Boys". Because ANGELS WASH THEIR FACES had the excellent writing and production values AND Hall and Gorcey were not constantly mugging for the camera, it's a pretty good film--and almost earns a score of 7 (it's REAL close). In fact, while this isn't a great film aesthetically, it's sure a lot of fun to watch, so I will give it a 7! Sure, it was a tad hokey-particularly towards the end when the kids take the law into their own hands and Reagan ignores the Bill of Rights--but it was also quite entertaining. The Dead End Kids are doing their best performances and Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan provided excellent support. Sure, this part of the film was illogical and impossible but somehow it was still funny and rather charming--so if you can suspend disbelief, it works well.
This 1939 film tried to capitalize on the much better Michael Curtiz's
film "Angels with Dirty Faces". As directed by Ray Enright, the only
interesting thing is how tamed these kids were in comparison with
what's going on with the youth in America's inner cities today.
The film is only worth seeing because of the presence of Ann Sheridan and Ronald Reagan, who showed they were well paired together. The Dead End kids have larger parts as the plot concentrates on them rather than in the older folks.
In a way it's curious how arson was used in the same way some scrupulous landlords did in later years right here in New York. It was the quickest way to turn a property around never considering the social problems it created. In today's climate with so many guns around there is a new reality. The young kids of the story seemed mere pranksters rather than criminals. How times change!
Gabe Ryan (Frankie Thomas) gets out of reform school and goes back to
the slums. His sister (Ann Sheridan) does her best to keep him out of
trouble, but it just seems to follow him. Aside from his associations
with the Termite gang, Gabe is followed by real-life gangsters who have
a scheme to set fire to random buildings to collect the insurance. They
need someone to blame for the arson, and Gabe is it. It is up to the
Termites to work the law in their favor and give the gangsters their
The the scene that introduces the Dead End Kids is really quite good. The boys wander on over to the new resident's furniture on the street, and proceed to make it their own. They talk to each other in phoney posh accents and talk about drinking tea together; Bernard Punsley takes a nap in a chair. The boys then proceed to start a fight with the new boy, but after he proves himself a good fighter, they ask him to join their club.
The initiation scene is rather good too, filled with mischief that seems dangerous at first, but is really rather clever and innocent.
Later, when Billy Halop studies to become the boy mayor, he has a dream about schoolwork. This is wonderfully staged, with tiny holograms of the kids walking on his face and firing questions at him.
Angels Wash Their Faces is a great title because it plays off of the success of Angels With Dirty Faces, and really tells what the kids are doing. Notorious for bad behavior on and off the set, these boys make nice in this film. But rather than seem disingenuous, it makes for some great laughs. This is a preview of what many of the boys would become in The Bowery Boys series. We even get a few garbled words from Leo Gorcey.
Angels Wash Their Faces, is basically a sequel to the 1938 hit Angels with Dirty Faces. The film is rather enjoying during the scenes with the "muggs" the Dead End Kids. They're a rather rambunctious group. What I don't like about the film is the drama that occurs between one of the group members death. It takes away from the comedy and it becomes a bit to serious for a film that was generally aimed at teens of the late 1930's. Ann Sheridan returns from Dirty Faces in a small and pointless role. She plays the role straight faced, and definitely from the looks of her is itchy to dig into a more serious role. Ronald Reagan also stars as another card board character. The films main stars are the "dead end kids", their the ones with the great lines and their the ones who shine throughout the picture. The adult characters of the film are left in the background, with not much to do. Still check it out if your a fan of the "dead end kids". ** out of ****
Angels Wash Their Faces, The (1939)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
The Dead End Kids star in this Warner crime drama, which has the boys trying to clear one of their pals of arson and murder charges. If you've seen one of these dramas then you've pretty much seen them all but this one here has a rather strange, stupid yet original twist at the end. The first half of the film is pretty boring as we sit through the typical story of a troubled kid trying to do good but getting into more trouble. Most of this is deadly dull and boring because we have seen it in previous films but then the twist takes place. In the middle of the movie one of the boys is elected Mayor and of course he appoints his pals into other positions throughout the city. This is how they go about getting their friend cleared but the screenplay is so far fetched that I couldn't help but break down laughing. All of this laughter made the second half of the film fast paced, loose and fun. The Dead End Kids are their typical self but Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan add nice support. Bonita Granville, from Warner's Nancy Drew series, also joins the boys and is an added touch. I'm not sure what it is about her but I've found her very charming and sweet in the five films of her's I've seen.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Making the Dead End Kids mayor of New York for a week is a fatal mistake they may not recover from. In 2013, the race for mayor truly is a circus, so one of the mayoral candidates could be as intelligent as this mayor and his cabinet. Then, there's the tale of the extra bad boy who reforms thanks to an adult, here played by that master of screen art, Ronald Reagen. The boys are supported by Ann Sheridan and Bonita Granville, with Margaret Hamilton as their teacher and Berton Churchill as the roly-poly mayor who looks nothing like Fiorello La Guardia. Some tough action sequences, particularly a fire which is blamed on the new kid on the block (resulting in a climactic trial which reveals the corruption in some parts of city government), add much needed excitement to the initially comic structure. The simple message of the film is to never under-estimate the young. They start fighting for their future the minute they see what's at stake and how past generations have screwed it up.
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