Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) Poster

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Cagney's First Screen Award Performance
theowinthrop5 June 2006
The rise and fall of Rocky Sullivan, tough guy gangster but square fellow, was the subject of this excellent film by Warner Brothers in 1938. It has several things going for it that maintains it's high ratings among gangster films and Cagney movies.

For one thing, Cagney's brilliant performance as Rocky won him his first major film award - the 1938 New York Film Critics Award for best actor. It is frequently forgotten that Cagney won this award four years before his Oscar winner in "Yankee Doodle Dandy", but in actuality the performance was the high point of the work he did (up to that time) as a gangster (his performances in "White Heat" and "Love Me Or Leave Me" were way in the future). It drives home how much of a struggle it was for Cagney to get out of the gangster mode, and why his George M. Cohan was such a striking change for his fans.

Secondly it was the sequel (the first sequel) of the Bowery Boy feature films after their introduction in "Dead End". Oddly enough, in that film, Humphrey Bogart was the out and out gangster "Baby Face" Martin, who was the villain in the film. Baby Face enjoyed his following with the gang of boys in that film. Here, though, Bogart was playing a weaselly lawyer named Jim Frazier, who is cowardly - quite a different type from Baby Face, who is angry at the state of his world and how ugly it has become. But Baby Face, at least, had guts.

The Bowery Boys are again a gang of street kids, who Father Jerry Connelly (Pat O'Brien) is trying to keep on the straight and narrow. Here, however, they worship Rocky, the local punk who did rise in the underworld and made a name for himself. But Rocky is Jerry's oldest friend, and he is also willing to help the priest with the boys.

The story deals with how Bogart and his new boss, Mac Keefer (the unjustly forgotten George Bancroft) have gotten control of over 100,000 dollars (1930 style dollars - about twenty million in buying power today), that belongs to Cagney. Cagney wants it back, and when Bogart and Bancroft keep putting him off he uses strong arm methods to force them into line. Eventually things blow up, and Cagney ends up in a gun battle that leaves a dead cop. He is tried and found guilty for this murder, and goes to the death house. This leads to one of the most frightening moments in Cagney's film career - when we see his final moments when being taken to the electric chair to be strapped in. I guarantee once seen you will never forget it.

There are one or two interesting points of a historical nature about Cagney's performance as Rocky. First, that massive gun battle that is shown (where he kills the cop and battles the police department from a building. It actually happened! In about 1931 there was an incident in Manhattan when a young hood, "Two Gun" Crowley, held off police after a homicide in a battle that lasted nearly an entire afternoon. Crowley (like Rocky) was defeated by tear gas. Like Rocky, he too died in the electric chair.

It has been pointed out that Cagney based some of Rocky's mannerisms on a drug addict character he knew in his old Hell's Gate/Yorkville area when he was a kid. Cagney mentions this in his memoir CAGNEY. But there is a curious second source. In his youth, Jimmy Cagney came from a family that struggled but managed to have food on the table and clothes on their back. But some of his playmates were not so lucky. One was a fellow nicknamed "Bootah" (because of the oversize boots he was forced to wear) whose real name was Peter Heslin. Cagney always was friendly with Peter, but their lives drifted apart. On April 5, 1926, Heslin was engaged in an armed robbery when an off-duty police officer, Charles H. Reilly, tried to stop him and was shot and killed. But Heslin (who was also wounded in the encounter) was captured shortly afterward. He was tried and convicted, and finally executed on July 21, 1927. That same night, a star was born on Broadway where Jimmy Cagney made a name for himself as a singer and dancer in the show "Broadway". Cagney was aware of the tragedy playing out with his friend at Sing Sing that night. He mentions Bootah's execution in his memoirs. Newspaper accounts of Heslin's electrocution do not mention anything unusual, but one wonders if (when Cagney was doing the scene) he thought of his unfortunate friend and added a bit more power to those last moments of the film.
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An absolute classic
The_Void3 January 2005
Michael Curtiz has made some great films, yet the only one that tends to be well received among film fans is his contender for the best movie ever made - obviously Casablanca (and Robin Hood, to a lesser extent). However, the man has a wealth of other influential classics under his belt that don't tend to get the recognition that they deserve, and Angels With Dirty Faces is one of those films. To sum the film up easily, one would say that it is a crime drama. However; like the best crime dramas, this one has multiple themes that elevate it from being merely a film about crime, to being a character study, a portrait of what it is that makes a hero and a condemnation of criminals on the whole. The story follows Rocky Sullivan and Jerry Connolly; two young New York thugs, the former of which is caught by the police and sent to a reform school, where, ironically, he learns to be a criminal. The latter escapes punishment and goes on to become a priest. The story follows these two men as they meet up as adults and have an effect on the lives of the kids of their old neighbourhood.

The focus of the film is always centred on the neighbourhood. This allows Curtiz to show us the effects that Rocky's criminal endeavours have on the kids of the neighbourhood more effectively. This sort of narrative would be employed in later films, such as the critically acclaimed 'City of God', and works well here too. The way the film shows how impressionable young kids can be influenced by adults works brilliantly, and Curtiz is able to continue this theme up until the powerful ending. James Cagney would later go on to achieve major fame in the incredible 'White Heat', but here he shows us what the quintessential New York gangster would be like. His performance, in short, is incredible and easily ranks among the best gangster roles of all time. The rest of the cast do well in their roles, with distinct New York accents helping to firmly place the audience in the city that the film is taking place in. Furthermore, the film is economic in the way it's plotted and it's also very exciting, and therefore guaranteed to delight it's audience.

Angels With Dirty Faces is an absolute cinema classic and quite why it isn't more famous is anyone's guess. Although not quite as good as Casablanca, this is a major notch in Michael Curtiz's filmography and I wouldn't have any qualms with recommending this to film fans at all.
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Say A Prayer For A Kid Who Couldn't Run As Fast
bkoganbing2 June 2006
Angels With Dirty Faces is a milestone film for the careers of both James Cagney and Pat O'Brien. Up to now they had been successfully teamed by Warner Brothers in a whole series of buddy films. In fact it is my contention that they popularized that particular genre. Here they are childhood friends, but as adults, adversaries due to the course in life they took.

Cagney came off suspension from Warner Brothers and agreed to do this film as his comeback of sorts. At first glance it seems just like another gangster flick, just what Cagney had been trying to get away from. But by force of personality and a superior script, Cagney turned the role of Rocky Sullivan into a classic and got his first Academy Award nomination.

As for O'Brien, this was his first clerical role. Usually O'Brien is the fast talking manager, press agent,etc. When playing a priest Pat O'Brien slows the pace of the dialog down to a crawl and it works. He greatly expanded his range here and there were many other classic clerical roles to come.

Cagney's a notorious gangster who's just been let out of prison after a three year stretch, taking a fall for his crooked attorney, Humphrey Bogart. Bogart was supposed to guard his $100,000.00 Cagney had squirreled away from illegal activities in the Twenties. Bogart's got a new partner now in George Bancroft and neither of them wants to cut Cagney in on anything.

Let's just say that Cagney in the usual Cagney fashion makes both of them wish they'd played it on the square.

Father O'Brien's concern is that notorious criminal Cagney is becoming a hero to some of the neighborhood kids in his parish. But he also can't forget that the two of them had been boyhood pals and that Cagney's first brush with the law was over a petty crime that O'Brien was equally guilty of. This is shown in a small prologue with three players portraying, Cagney, O'Brien, and neighborhood girl Ann Sheridan as kids.

Young Frankie Burke is astounding in his portrayal of the young Cagney. He has him down perfectly, he becomes Cagney. Angels With Dirty Faces is worth watching for him alone.

Those other juvenile actors with Warner Brothers at the time, The Dead End Kids, play the kids from the parish who come to idolize and idealize Cagney. O'Brien has one tough time trying to make them see that Cagney's life is not the way to go in life.

Angels With Dirty Faces still has a powerful message for today and film aficionados should see it because of that and because it was a key turning point in the careers of James Cagney and Pat O'Brien.
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Cagney Heads Impressive Cast
ccthemovieman-129 October 2005
This film certainly has an attractive cast with three Hall-Of-Fame actors and the very pretty Ann Sheridan.

James Cagney, my favorite actor of classic films, once again steals most of the scenes. He just dominates the screen and gets you very involved with his character, especially at the end. Pat O'Brien plays his normal somewhat-liberal and likable priest role and Humphrey Bogart is convincing as the crooked lawyer. Bogart was the bad guy in most films until he became a big star a couple years after this film.

The "Dead End Kids" are a pretty tough bunch. Seeing them play basketball is quite a sight - more like rugby. It must be one of the highlights of this entertaining film because I remember it so was so different from any other basketball game I've ever seen!

The shootout-and-chase scene near the end was well-done with some great film-noir photography and the ending of the movie is quite memorable. Frankly, the first time I saw this I thought it was overrated but after the second viewing - and then seeing a nice transfer on DVD - I changed my mind. It is anything but overrated.
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Post Production Code Gangster Classic!
bsmith555212 February 2005
"Angels With Dirty Faces" was James Cagney's first film for Warner Bros. following his two year contract dispute. During that time he appeared in two films for the poverty row studio Grand National. With a few concessions to The Production Code (introduced in 1934) it is nonetheless one of the great all time gangster films. The touch of legendary director Michael Curtiz is evident throughout.

The story begins in the 1920s with two boyhood pals "Rocky" Sullivan (Frankie Burke) and Jerry Connelly (William Tracy) in the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood of New York. Rocky gets arrested by the police and is sent to the reformatory after a botched break in while Jerry escapes. While in prison, Rocky learns the evils of gangsterism from within and forges a life of crime and growing up to be James Cagney. Meanwhile Jerry has become a priest in the Pierson of Pat O'Brien.

Rocky returns to the old neighborhood and becomes involved with a group of teenagers (The Dead End Kids) who are headed in the same direction as Rocky. Fr. Jerry prevails upon Rocky to help him straighten the boys out before its too late. Rocky also meets up with a girl from his childhood, Laury Ferguson (Ann Sheridan).

Meanwhile we learn that Rocky has served three years in jail to protect his former partner and lawyer Jim Frazier (Humphrey Bogart). He has also entrusted Frazier with $100,000 from an earlier caper. Rocky goes to Frazier to demand his money and learns that Frazier is now involved with crime boss Mac Keefer (George Bancroft) and that they plan to cheat him out of his money. Hey, nobody double crosses Rocky.

Cagney is typical Cagney, bold, brash and cocky as Rocky. O'Brien as the Irish priest was a role he was born to play. Sheridan looks lovely but has little to do. Bogart, who was still 3 years away from major stardom, does well as the yellow back stabbing lawyer. The Dead End Kids - Billy Halop, Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Gabriel Dell, Bernard Punsley) would move to a "B" series (without Hallop) after their Warner contract expired in 1939. The performances of Frankie Burke in particular and William Tracy as the young Rocky and Jerry are excellent.

"Angels With Dirty Faces" is probably best remembered for its ending. don't miss it.
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Golden-age film offers great gangster yarn and metaphysical struggle
Sloke18 March 2000
"Angels With Dirty Faces" has been called the gangster movie of the New Deal. Previously, with such early-30s films as "Little Caesar" and "Public Enemy," gangster films at their best were engrossing actioners with charismatic but undeniably evil central figures. "Angels With Dirty Faces," released in 1938, presents a more nuanced view of what makes the modern bad man tick. Is it a bad heart? Or is society to blame?

Cagney is undeniably great in the role that made him a legend. His practiced patter never wears thin, and his screen presence is electric throughout. (Especially at the end, and I don't mean that as a pun.) But the screenwriters never let us forget the good in the man. We see him come up against more ruthless elements of the underworld, people like Bogart (a real baddie here) who have no compunction about killing a man if it means avoiding payment of a heavy debt. We see him interact with a group of starry-eyed juveniles (The Dead End Kids) whose nickel-and-dime antics fill him with a poignant but heartily-amusing nostalgia. And we see him try to do right by his former partner in crime, now a priest played by Hugh O'Brien.

But Cagney is trapped by the circumstances of his life. He can't walk away from a life of crime, which has made him what he is and gives him the only life satisfaction he knows. He's correctly on guard for double-crossers at every turn. When cornered, his cheery face becomes bug-eyed and menacing. We know he's bad, but we like him, and that puts us in the company of the audience-surrougate figure, Father Connolly.

Director Curtiz was an auteur before his time, filling his canvas with images of downtrodden street life. This isn't for mere effect, but to show us why Rocky is what he is and how come he finds little hope for his redemption. There are souls to be saved in this picture, but for Father Connolly, they are Laurie and the boys. He must take on his childhood chum, the same kid who saved Connolly from the perils of the Mean Streets and allowed him to become what he was.

It is a choice between God and friendship, and while Connolly has little doubt which way to go, the audience may not be with him all the way. The ending points up this spiritual conflict in some of the most harrowing terms ever brought to screen at that time. When you really think about what's going on behind Connolly's face in that final scene, it's a real tear-inducer.

Was Rocky's last scene a put-up job? I guess it can be argued back and forth, but the real question of value is whether, if it was faked, was it enough to perform a miracle even the good Father Connolly wouldn't have quite believed in, the salvation of Rocky. The last image of the boys, desolately accepting the news of their hero's fall, is at once triumphant and bittersweet. Nothing comes easy in this world of ours.

"Angels With Dirty Faces" may strike a falsely optimistic note to some, but it is optimism well-earned by the honesty of vision expressed. Add to that clever dialogue, great pacing, and one of cinema's keystone performances by Cagney, and you have a real keeper here.

P.S. It also features one of the finest Cagney impersonations ever, by William Tracey as the young Rocky. Funny stuff.
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Angels or Evils?
esteban17471 May 2005
This is one of my favorite classics, with extraordinary acting of James Cagney, one of the best actors starring crime films, and his friend, Pat O'Brien, who once again played the role of a priest. In fact, O'Brien in his real life studied to become a priest, but later he quit for becoming an actor. The seed of criminality is here well shown, but not its causes. Why are these children finally criminals? It was not the intention of the director Michael Curtiz to go deeply into the problem, instead he treated it religiously. Men are products of the society where they live, obviously, some escape from bad examples while others continue to be spoiled for the whole life. Rocky Sullivan (Cagney) was the case, a spoiled child with some principles of friendship only, and hard with his enemies. His best friend (o'Brien) hopefully became a priest and took the life differently, trying to help and improve the behavior of the children in the community where he lives. Why one went in one way different to the other? this is not suggested in the film. We have only the facts and then you must figure out the reasons of such behaviors. Interesting film, anyway, with good acting of Humphrey Bogart too, who was a perfect actor for playing the roles of the villains, and always nice Ann Sheridan did it well too.
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Cagney in great form ****
JoeKarlosi2 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
(possible spoilers):

James Cagney really struts his stuff in this one, and all his classic "caricature" type movements and traits are on vivid display here. I loved the interplay between Cagney and Humphrey Bogart (in a supporting role); also intriguing was the relationship between the now-grown Rocky Sullivan (that's Cagney's character) and the straight-laced Jerry (played by Pat O'Brien), who was the childhood friend of Rocky and partner in mischief who wound up spending his adulthood as a priest while his companion never was able to go completely straight.

The Dead End Kids tended to get on my nerves at times, but I guess that's partly what they're supposed to do, as street punks who idolize the legendary Sullivan and want to follow in his infamous footsteps.

Just want to mention that I thought the ending - with Cagney's change of demeanor in the electric chair and the resulting disappointment of the kids who worshipped him - was a great cinematic moment by director Michael Curtiz. People have debated whether or not Cagney is supposed to be genuinely afraid at the end or just putting on a show for the kids to learn something from. I'm of the opinion that he was acting cowardly, and that he did it primarily as a favor to his longtime friend, Father Pat O'Brien. In the process he was able to help the young gang of thugs re-think their futures as well.
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A classic early crime drama
soranno22 October 2002
Throughout the 1930's, Warner Brothers delivered many quality crime and gangster dramas that usually featured the likes of the studio's distinguished contract star roster. This 1938 release is one of the prime examples. James Cagney and Pat O'Brien (who were frequently cast in films together and this is their best one together) portray boyhood buddies who reunite years later after Cagney is released from prison where he had served for many years for a petty crime that he committed while he was still a kid. Cagney has not learned his lesson that crime doesn't pay and so he returns to his old neighborhood to set up his criminal hideout. Meanwhile, his old friend, O'Brien has given up being a street hood and has since become a respected priest who naturally doesn't think highly of the life that his friend has chosen for himself. To make matters worse, six young boys (portrayed by the Dead End Kids) whom O'Brien is trying to lead down the right paths begin to idolize Cagney. Humphrey Bogart also appears in a pre big box office star part as a lawyer and screen veteran George Bancroft also costars as a dishonest crime boss. Michael Curtiz' direction and Max Steiner's musical score are also highlights. This film is one of the all time great ones of the 1930's and an excellent showcase for its legendary cast and crew.
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renfield5416 August 1999
This film is included on my personal top 10 list. The old-time ethnic slums (?) of New York City in the 20's and 30's are a picaresque window to another time. One where gangsters were heroes (to some) and filled newspapers with their exploits. Tales of crime and riches are like candy to the gangs of kids living in poverty, while seeking their own escape to something better. They could only learn from experience, what Rocky Sullivan (Cagney) already knew, there is no honor among thieves. No honor, and no road back for Rocky. But, sometimes, for someone else, fate gets a push.

A very interesting, fast-paced story, I recommend this highly. The transition from Rocky's childhood to his adult years is especially well done and cast. In 'spirited' discussions with friends, we STILL don't agree on Rocky's thoughts and motivations at the end of the film. WAS HE GIVEN AN 'OUT' ? WAS HE HERO OR COWARD? WAS IT WHAT HE WANTED? WAS IT IMPOSED ON HIM? WAS IT CALCULATED OR DID IT POUR OUT UNCONTROLLABLY? Judge for yourself. After a few viewings, it's not as simple as it appears......
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A favorite Bogart film by default...
Nazi_Fighter_David15 April 2005
"Angels With Dirty Faces" has become a favorite Bogart film by default; it has been shown so often and has served as the prime source of material for countless satirists and impressionists…

It is the familiar tale of two young boys who grow up to be on opposing sides of the field—one a gangster (James Cagney) and the other a priest, (Pat O'Brien). The story was obviously sentimental… Its saving virtues were the performances by the leads, clever and suave, energetic direction by Michael Curtiz, and a good music score by Max Steiner…

Bogart had little, and certainly nothing new, to do as he played Cagney's lawyer-turned-nightclub-owner who double-crosses him…
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In the eyes of the world you can be anything. In the eyes of friends only one.
elvircorhodzic4 May 2016
ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES is a film that has the original socio - critical message. The script and story are very allowed. Curtiz is in the heart of the story, but between two fires, put a rag-tag group of young. Interestingly, such a state viewed from the perspective of young boys. Criminals are always a role model. The time and place do not matter. Perception is dictated by socio - economic aspects of society.

In this film, the main character is not only criminal but also the anti-hero. He was polished, charming, charismatic, accomplished, and of course rich. Rocky Sullivan played by James Cagney, is a portrait of the life times of such 'Angels with Dirty Faces "as the title of the film says. Rocky is not a bad person.

This is a gangster movie, fast action and great culmination. The story is a complete and well rounded. The friendship of the two protagonists of this film is very strongly played. Cagney and O'Brien (Fr. Jerry Connolly) are excellent in their roles. Perhaps it is the strongest, which comes as the icing on the cake after a whole and dismissed the scenario, just what constitutes the epilogue of the story about two friends. The relationship of good and evil set through the prism of truth and falsehood. Friends are separated at an early age, others are bound heart and soul, and yet each had their fight.

I wonder what would have happened if the roles were replaced at the beginning of the film? In the eyes of the world you can be anything. In the eyes of friends only one. The film is a dramatic and action equally good. Acting with visible improvisation, is at a high level. Bogart, Sheridan and Bancroft are not especially imposed.
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A Rocky Story for the Rocky Life
ironhorse_iv8 October 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Angels with dirty face is a 1930's Warner Bros gangster film that stars James Cagney as Rocky Sullivan and Pat O'Brien as Jerry Connelly. As the film's opens, young teenager Rocky and Jerry are trouble makers—it wasn't until young Rocky is catch by the police that we see the two characters change. Rocky is sent to reform school. In a montage of images, Rocky graduates to prison as he pursues a life of crime including bootlegging, manslaughter, gambling, and violent gang rivalry. Mobster Rocky is sent to prison to serve another three years for a crime he has committed with crooked attorney James Frazier (Humphrey Bogart). He is promised by Frazier that when he is discharged after taking the rap, he will be paid $100,000 from the crooked heist the two had pulled. As adults, Rocky embraces a life of crime, whereas Jerry, who had witnessed Rocky's fate, becomes a priest assigned to his old home parish. When discharged, Rocky returns to his former neighborhood, and visits the church where Father Jerry serves as parish priest and where they had been altar boys together twenty years earlier. Jerry faces the challenges of teaching and working with tough, gutter-bred neighborhood boys call the "Dead End" kids, trying to make them decent citizens. Dead End Kids are based and a continue sage of the 1935 play and the film Dead End (1937)). It's become hard for Jerry, because of his criminal exploits, the boys idolize him and regard him with almost fanatical hero worship when he shares his criminal exploits and experiences. The priest is unsuccessful in retrieving the neighborhood kids from emulating their gangster hero. Jerry wants Rocky to behave in a way so that the neighborhood kids will not admire him and revere him as a role model or martyr, following in his misguided footsteps. Jerry asks that Rocky make a really heroic action and show a special kind of courage. George Bancroft (Mac Keefer) also comes in the story, playing an influential politician and rackets boss that Rocky works under his new job. In the course of the movie, we are left to ask if Rocky is willing to reform or continue with his criminal past life… this come in light with his relationship with the kids. Jerry and an old flame play by Ann Sheridan. In one of the most tautly directed, unforgettable, harrowing sequences of any film in the 1930s, Rocky is force to make a choice. The scene is bathed in dark suggestive, oppressive shadows, and the musical score (by Max Steiner) resembles a plodding, relentless march to what his life really means. It is unclear whether or not his true nature or motives are revealed - is he pretending or not. It's up to you as the viewer to decision. Cagney is great as the swaggering, pugnacious career criminal Rocky. Cagney is brilliant. The facial expression of James Cagney. His face is intense and penetrating! Pat O'Brien plays best as a mild-mannered, forceful, sincere and compassionate priest. This is perfect in every way, very finely executed. What a classic film this is!
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Whadda ya hear! Whadda ya say!
Tipster1013 September 2011
A classic gangster film of Hollywood's Golden Age from Casablanca director Michael Curtiz, Angels with Dirty Faces is one of James Cagney's most well known films and had him nominated for his first Academy Award.

Rocky Sullivan (Cagney) and Jerry Connelly (Pat O'Brien) are childhood friends who are caught robbing a train as kids. After Rocky takes the rap the two set on different paths, Jerry becomes a priest while Rocky can't escape the life of crime. Years later they reunite on friendly terms but each have a different influence on a group of street kids who resemble the lifestyle they once shared.

The film for the most part may seem to be just a typical 1930s gangster quota quickie from Warner, with Rocky as a tough crook being screwed over by his former ally Humphrey Bogart. But the focus is instead on the relationship with Jerry who looks out for the best interests of the kids (to whom the title refers), and by the end Rocky must make a decision which, to a Depression era audience, would have been quite inspiring. Cagney also gives Rocky a moral grounding which has the audience sympathising with him from start to finish.

Overall a decent crime story with a message about the kind of courage that is not "heroics and bravado", and you can clearly see its influence on modern characterisation, but perhaps this means the novelty is lost to today's audience.
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Just short of perfect, and layered up with surprises in the usual gangster plot
secondtake30 January 2010
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

Just a couple years before Casablanca, this is another of director Michael Curtiz's startling, well filmed, intelligent action movies, this one also for Warner Brothers. And Bogart is a key secondary figure here, somewhat tame compared to the usual intensity of James Cagney, who again plays a gangster to perfection. The odd second layer here sometimes threatens to tilt to moralizing, even with the roughness of the church kids, as the priest weighs in on certain scenes. But the two elements--good and evil, basically--not only contrast, but they overlap, and the confusion of who is doing the most good and why is part of the bigger ethical fiber of the plot.

Maybe it's because of these moments where Cagney's gangster role is softened by interacting with the priest that we see less direct, raw acting, the scary thing that he can pull of so well. But he's still utterly convincing, and the ending is chilling no matter how you read it. If you, like me, like a film to go beyond a simple do crime and get caught kind of scenario, this is a great one. The great Sol Polito is cinematographer, and it shows, in every single scene, whether the fascinating street shots (packed with activity) or the shadowing alley and basement shots (composed for drama and depth). And the music, relatively invisible, by Max Steiner is of course flawless.
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Corr2811 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
A memorable, amazing gangster film with a social message featuring a blistering performance by the one and only James Cagney. JC plays notorious gangster Rocky Sullivan who comes back to his old neighborhood and a reunion with his old pal Jerry Connelly. Time has a strange way of changing things, you see, Sullivan and Connelly were boyhood pals from the wrong side of the tracks. Sullivan spent time in a reformatory only to emerge the hardened criminal that he is. Connelly, spared time in the reformatory because he could run faster then Rocky and got away, is now a priest trying to keep the youth from his neighborhood out of trouble. Father Connelly is working hard on a group of youngsters, the Dead End Kids, who are already headed in the wrong direction. Things become complicated when Rocky arrives as the youngsters idolize the gangster and begin to really show signs of an impending criminal life. Rocky's own problems mount, including being ripped off by his lawyer James Frazier played by Humphrey Bogart. Rocky tries to remedy his situation but his cohorts are planning to rub out Father Connelly who's one man crusade to wipe out the criminal element is going too far. Rocky will have no part of it and resorts to murder to prevent his friend from being killed. Unfortunately, Rocky is caught and is sentenced to die in the electric chair setting up one of the most memorable conclusions in film history.

This is a completely absorbing, emotional film with standout performances from everyone. Besides Cagney, Pat O'Brien as Father Connelly gives what is perhaps his finest performance. The support from Bogart, the Dead End Kids and Ann Sheridan are all top notch. Many unforgettable scenes abound, namely Cagney's unorthodox "refereeing" at a basketball game and the aforementioned conclusion which still haunts me to this day. Director Michael Curtiz does an amazing job. His camera is almost in constant movement with fluid passes and turns and his brilliant use of light, darkness and shadow is amazing to watch. I just can't say enough about this film, one of the finest gangster epics to ever grace the big screen. It's very easy to see why Cagney was nominated for an Academy Award in this one.
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"All right, fellas... let's go and say a prayer for a boy who couldn't run as fast as I could."
ackstasis28 October 2007
'Angels with Dirty Faces,' one of a string of gangster/crime pictures that frequented Hollywood throughout the 1930s {'Little Caesar (1931);' 'The Public Enemy (1931);' 'Scarface (1932);' 'The Petrified Forest (1936)'}, was a film that I really only watched to see Humphrey Bogart playing a bad guy, as happened often in the years before 'The Maltese Falcon (1941)' made him a star. However, it was the performance of Mr. James Cagney – of whom I'd often heard, but never seen on screen – that truly inspired my admiration, delivering surely one of the most memorable displays of acting I'd ever seen. I know that it's an old cliché in film criticism, but this wasn't simply an actor playing a role; Cagney completed inhabited the character of Rocky Sullivan, slipping so painlessly into the role that you'd think Sullivan was a real criminal merely playing himself. Cagney's defiantly-upright posture, dryly-amused facial expressions, his quirky mannerisms {including his character's trademark greeting of "Whaddya hear? Whaddya say?"} project a lifetime of power, corruption and frustration; Sullivan's wily toughness has been chiseled by years of crime and incarceration, of his constant exposure to men just as dangerous as himself. He is truly a formidable figure, and Cagney flawlessly captures the many layers of his fascinating character, in a role for which he earned the first of his three Oscar nominations.

'Angels with Dirty Faces' was directed by Michael Curtiz, most famous nowadays for 'Casablanca (1942),' but his list of great films is extensive, as I'm now beginning to discover. The film is a thickly-layered crime film, slick and action-packed with a hint of social commentary. It deals with a popular theme of 1930s crime films, of two childhood friends who, in later life, ended up on opposite sides of the law. Rocky Sullivan (Frankie Burke as a youth, James Cagney as an adult) and Jerry Connolly (William Tracy as a youth, Pat O'Brien as an adult) were the best of friends, passing their adolescent years through dabbling in minor theft. After they are discovered raiding a railway car, Jerry manages to flee the policemen's grasp, but Rocky is apprehended; this seemingly trivial event {Rocky being unable to run quite as fast as Jerry} is the crucial moment when the two boys' paths violently diverged, and their lives would never be the same again. After spending years in a rehabilitation centre for juvenile delinquents, Rocky becomes immersed in a life of crime, while his old friend heads towards the Church, from which he tries to prevent the next generation from going astray.

As I mentioned earlier, Cagney leads a dynamite cast of intriguing characters. Humphrey Bogart excels as James Frazier, a weaselly lawyer who decides to have Rocky whacked rather than pay him the $100,000 in misbegotten money that he owes him; George Bancroft plays his associate in crime. The "Dead End" Kids from William Wylers 'Dead End (1937)', headed by Soapy (Billy Halop), are a gang of youths who idolise Rocky's life of crime so reverentially that they are almost certain to follow in his pitiful footsteps. Pretty Laury Ferguson (Ann Sheridan), a girl from Rocky's childhood, isn't given particularly much to do in the film, but is rather the perfect embodiment of innocence, a stark contrast with our main character's dirty criminal past. Pat O'Brien {who starred in countless films alongside Cagney throughout the decade} is adequate as the good-willed anti-crime crusader, but his priest character just isn't really all that interesting, somewhat bland alongside a hot-heated dynamo like Rocky Sullivan. Praise must also go to young Frankie Burke, who plays Rocky as a child, and who imitated Cagney's tone and mannerisms so perfectly that I wondered for a second if that was Cagney himself somehow playing a teenager.
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angels with dirty faces- in anyones top five
tkstevedearman18 December 2006
fantastic film every scene a delight to watch. with Cagney at his best this film is an education to one and all and what a ending. they really don,t make them like this anymore!! shows hells kitchen and how tough life was in thirties new york with two young hoodlums one turns to crime the other enters the church years later they meet with the opening words what,ya hear what,ya say. both have influence on up and coming wayward youngters. one path will lead them out of the ghetto the other path will lead to prison or worse. superb performance from pat O'Brien and and mr h bogart and other cast. plus humour from the dead end kids. great stuff.
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Cagney vs. The Dead End Kids!
Spuzzlightyear5 November 2005
One of the greatest films of Cagney's film career, and the film that unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your gag reflexes) introduced us to the Dead End Kids! James Cagney is a career criminal, who, immediately after getting out of the clink, meets up with his former partner in crime (Pat O'Brien!), who of course is a priest now and loathes the life Cagney leads. Cagney is also preoccupied with a bunch of no-good kids who of course idolize him. Seeing this, O'Brien thinks Cagney should lead the kids to good. But Cagney is too busy getting even with his old business cronies (Humphrey Bogart!).

This film is a lot fun, most especially watching Bogey and Cagney on the screen together. For those rather uninitiated with the career of Bogart (eg, just seen Casablanca and the Sam Spade movies), this film may come as a revelation to you, as he plays a cretinous heel here. And Cagney? Ahhh, what's not to like? He's flawless here, (well, except his curious gun usage). As for the Dead End Kids, I liked them here, rather interesting that Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall almost are in the background here, with their leadership of the group not yet realized.
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Classic Melodrama That's Not For Cynics
Theo Robertson15 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
If you ever take a film class about gangster films you'll soon learn that it's a genre " Catholic " in outlook in much the same way as the western is " Protestant " . Once you analysis the gangster genre you'll find that there's almost a formulaic lay out of themes of a fatherless outsider trying to become part of the American dream via illegal means . ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES is slightly different in that the characters are Amercan born and it's the street gang of juvenile delinquents who are in need of the father figure and the film rests on whether Father Jerry Connolly or Rocky Sullivan becomes that father figure

I'm feeling slightly ashamed of myself for saying this but I liked this movie a lot , and the reasons I liked it is down to the reasons that I shouldn't . There's hardly a single scene that rings of any type of realism . Cagney was a Hollywood star but he was never an actor . There is something compelling about his performances however and he dominates every scene he is in . I can certainly understand why some people don't like his acting style but it's a style that suits the film perfectly that lacks any type of verisimilitude . None of it rings true but there's something that keeps you watching even though there's a voice inside your head saying " What a load of melodramatic Hollywood tosh "

Your opinion of the film lies with what you thought about the golden age of Hollywood . This was a period of American film making where producers were under heavy censure via The Hays Code where any type of immorality must be seen to be punished on screen and this suits a film like ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES wonderfully . Rocky is a bad man but a hero to the teenage street gang , he must not be allowed to be a hero to criminal youth and so must face death as a coward . On paper this appears to be the cheesiest ending ever seen in a movie but as it plays out on screen it's one the most beautiful and memorable endings Hollywood has ever produced . Michael Curtiz directs this scene via suggestion and is all the better for it

If you're a fan of Old Hollywood then you'll enjoy this . Even a self confessed cynic like myself found this movie compelling . You have to be slightly forgiving for some of the more melodramatic aspects but in some ways that's part of the movie's appeal
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James Cagney is the boss
SnoopyStyle8 April 2016
Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) and Jerry Connolly (Pat O'Brien) are childhood friends. In 1920, the two boys are chased by the police. Jerry managed to escape but Rocky is detained leading to a life of crime. Jerry becomes a priest and Rocky becomes a notorious gangster. James Frazier (Humphrey Bogart) is Rocky's corrupt lawyer. After getting out of prison, Rocky moves into a boarding house run by former classmate Laury Martin (Ann Sheridan). He takes an interest in a crew of petty criminals, The 'Dead End' Kids. The kids see him as their hero while Jerry tries to reform the boys. Rocky wants his share from Frazier and Frazier is willing to kill Rocky to keep it.

The 'Dead End' Kids was a concept back in the day and this may be the best movie with this idea. In this one, they try to out-Cagney Cagney, but there is only one. He does his usual act plus much, much, more. It's a nice pairing with O'Brien and Bogie is a heavy. It's a classic crime melodrama of the highest quality.
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James Cagney Gives it Up for the "Dead End" Kids
wes-connors5 April 2009
One of the best of its type, "Angels with Dirty Faces" epitomizes the "gangster" and "juvenile delinquent" pictures of the 1930s (and 1940s). These are the films showing how unfortunate circumstances turn young men into hardened criminals. It's the "Nature vs. Nurture" argument. And, don't waste any time wondering about this film's stance - the title says it all - if you rub that dirty criminal's face hard enough, you'll find a hidden Angel.

This is the case with tough guy James Cagney (as Rocky Sullivan), who landed in reform school for stealing, and was seduced into a life of crime. It may be too late for Cagney, but not for the younger generation of dirty-faced angels known as "The Dead End Kids", who worship the charismatic gangster. At least, that's the way scarred priest Pat O'Brien (as Jerry Connolly) sees things. Father O'Brien, who escaped Cagney's fate, wants salvation for the little tough guys.

Cagney's courageous, shoulder-rolling turn as "Rocky" is entrancing; absolutely, he deserved a "Best Actor" award - which the "on target" in the 1930s New York Film Critics delivered. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the classic line-up of "Dead End Kids" - Billy Halop as "Soapy", Bobby Jordan as "Swing", Leo Gorcey as "Bim", Gabriel Dell as "Pasty", Huntz Hall as "Crab", and Bernard Punsly as "Hunky" - are a symphony of spitting, smoking, and (mostly) smacked upside the head young punks.

The memorable Warner Brothers supporting cast includes rheumy-eyed lawyer Humphrey Bogart (as James Frazier), sultry Ann Sheridan (as Laury Ferguson), and perfectly cast Frankie Burke (as a young James Cagney). "Social Consciousness"- raising films can often trip over themselves, so don't watch this one in the wrong frame of mind.

********* Angels with Dirty Faces (11/24/38) Michael Curtiz ~ James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Billy Halop, Humphrey Bogart
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Shoulder Driving
tedg20 July 2005
This movie works, and it interests me why.

Regular readers of my comments know that I am on a grand quest to map all the introspective and complex folding tricks used to ensnare viewers. I'm convinced they are important.

But along comes something like this that is so simple and pure, it throws all my obsessions with complexity into a cocked hat.

This is so exceedingly simple and sappy and dumb and ordinary and stupidly moralizing that all of us would discard it if it were not for one thing: Cagney's character. And not even the fact that he created a character in the usual whole sense. Instead, he created a character acting a character (so I suppose there is folding after all).

Cagney was essentially a dancer and here he does some somewhat obvious posturing, especially the shoulder reset tick.

Can one motion carry a movie, even carry it into permanence? Yes, it seems so. Yes.

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
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"Whadda ya hear! Whadda ya say!"
utgard1417 September 2016
The gangster movie is one of my favorite genres from Hollywood's Golden Age and no one could do them like Warner Bros. They made many classics but none quite as good as Angels with Dirty Faces, in my opinion. Directed by Michael Curtiz, it stars James Cagney and Pat O'Brien as childhood friends whose lives take different paths -- O'Brien becomes a priest and Cagney becomes a criminal. When Cagney returns to the old neighborhood and proves to be a bad influence on the street kids who idolize him, O'Brien fights to save the kids and, if possible, his friend.

A wonderful movie in every way, with humor and action and lots of heart. Cagney does a fantastic job deserving of his Oscar nomination. His final scene is among the best of his career. O'Brien has a less flashy part but he's really the anchor to the film and delivers a great turn himself. His real life friendship with Cagney no doubt helped in selling the affection these two men have for one another. Ann Sheridan is good in a somewhat unnecessary part. She makes the most of her screen time and has nice chemistry with Cagney, but her character adds little to the story. Humphrey Bogart, at this point still playing villains, is very good as a weasel you can't wait to see rubbed out. The Dead End Kids play the gang of "yutes" that's at the heart of it all. As always, they're an acquired taste but I tend to enjoy them a lot. They're especially good here with Cagney, who's like a big Dead End Kid himself. The basketball scene is a hoot. Special mention to Frankie Burke, who plays Cagney's character as a teen in the beginning of the movie. Ideal casting, both in looks and performance, Burke is terrific.

It's one of my all-time favorite films. I love WB gangster movies and they don't get any better than this one. Often imitated and mocked over the years, it might not hold the same punch for modern audiences that it once did. I was lucky to see it when I was young before I was too cynical to enjoy it. I credit it with being one of the films that turned me into a classic Hollywood fan for life.
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Classic Cagney, Classic Cinema.
RF45631 January 2005
I'd always heard about how great an actor James Cagney was, but had never seen any of his films. So I decided to rent this one from the local video store. After watching it I was astounded at how great an actor he is. This has to be his defining movie. Cagney plays a very believable gangster named Rocky Sullivan and I think his performance alone could have made this movie good. He had a screen presence that very few actors, other than say John Wayne or Clint Eastwood have had. His performance combined with an excellent script, superb direction and great supporting performances, make for a movie that defines excellence in film-making from the golden age of cinema. If you want to see a James Cagney movie or just want to watch an old black and white classic, then this is the one to get!
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