"Michael Curtiz' "Angels with Dirty Faces" is one of those movies (like his "Casablanca" and "Mildred Pierce") in which the planets and stars were perfectly aligned. James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Pat O'Brien, Ann Sheridan, and the Dead End Kids are completely believeable. In fact, even the actors who played the young Cagney and O'Brien were right on.
But it is Curtiz' direction that runs the show. Curtiz moves seamlessly from the crowded streets, to the claustrophobic tenements, to the glitzy gambling joints. And his mastery of shadow and light cannot be overstated, as historian Dana Polan points out in his insightful commentary.
All these elements combine to create a great movie, and not just a great gangster movie. The complex relationships between Rocky Sullivan, the kids, and Fadda Jerry (O'Brien)--and the astounding ending to the film--make it as poignant and widely-appealing as any other movie of its time or any other time.
Don't be a sucker
Steven Hellerstedt | 05/01/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"James Cagney and Pat O'Brien star as childhood friends whose lives diverge dramatically in Michael Curtiz's 1938 ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES. Chased by cops and railroad bulls after stealing boxes of fountain pens out of a freight car, Rocky Sullivan (Cagney) is caught and sent to reform school. Jerry Connelly (O'Brien) runs just a little faster and escapes. Rocky grows up a gangster, Jerry becomes a priest. Flash forward fifteen years. Rocky is being released after his last stint in stir and puts the squeeze on his crooked lawyer Jim Frazier (Humphrey Bogart) to cut him into `the business' per a previous arrangement. Father Jerry ministers to the troubled youth of what is, though never named, obviously New York City's Hell's Kitchen. Rocky moves back to the old neighborhood and becomes involved with the Dead End Kids, the dirty faced angels of the title, the same gang Father Jerry is trying, unsuccessfully, to reach. By the final act Rocky is ingrained in the local crime network that buys off politicians and police, the DE Kids are drawn to the charismatic gangster, and Father Jerry, in frustration, launches a media campaign against the crooks and crooked politicians, warning his childhood pal Rocky that he'll steamroll over him, as well, if it comes to that. There's a lot to like in ANGELS. Cagney is on the top of his form, often hitching his shoulders and twirling his head in a fluid, whiplike motion, adding another bit that will be imitated numerous times by many lesser actors. Cagney and O'Brien's walk down the last mile is also one of the most memorable and moving sequences in Hollywood history. On the other hand, Ann Sheridan is wasted in an underwritten part as Rocky's girlfriend, and Bogart isn't called on to do much more than cringe and cower. O'Brien's portrayal of the priest is a bit sanctimonious and smug. It may have thrilled the censors at the League of Decency, but today it just reads stuffy. The biggest clunker, though, is the Dead End Kids, whose schtick grows old really quick. Warners must have been building their fan base, or something, before changing their names to the Bowery Boys and launching them on a profitable and prolific b-movie career. Fans of Jimmy Cagney won't be disappointed with his performance, though, and it has to be said that nobody slings the pious sentiment with greater sincerity than O'Brien. As is their custom in the Gangster series, Warners has loaded this dvd with delightful extras. There's a 21 minute making of special, "Whaddya hear? Whaddya say?" that discusses the movie, director Michael Curtiz and the career and friendship of Cagney and O'Brien. The special contains some spoilers so it might be better if you watch it after watching the movie. There's also an hour-long audio rebroadcast of a 1939 Lux Radio (Lux, the soap with active lather) broadcast of the play, featuring Cagney and O'Brien, with Gloria Dixon in the Ann Sheridan role. The radio play is interesting for a couple of reasons. It adds a line to the `last mile' sequence at the end that saps the script of its ambiguity and unambiguously tells us whether or not Rocky turned coward at the end. The radio show also contains a short speech by J. Edgar Hoover's `pal,' writer Courtney Riley Cooper, who speechifies a tad incoherently on "kids born with a `mouthful of want.'" Film historian Dana Polan deconstructs the movie on the commentary track, setting a record for the use of the word `interesting' and `interestingly' - preceding every other sentence with "I found this interesting..." and "Interestingly, this scene was...." That annoyance aside, Polan's commentary put ANGELS in academic context, stressing themes and motifs and for the most part ignoring anecdotal information about the movie's cast and crew. The Warners Night at the Movies include: A trailer for Boy Meets Girl, a comedy starring Cagney and O'Brien. A newsreel warning of war clouds gathering over Europe and Franklin Roosevelt's call for America to rearm. A black-and-white Porky and Daffy cartoon, titled "Porky and Daffy," directed by Robert Clampett. An 18-minute short entitled "Out Where the Stars Begin" featuring veteran character actor Fritz Feld as an autocratic and temperamental European director (Leonard Maltin tells us the character is based on ANGELS' director Michael Curtiz.) Shot in Technicolor with pink tutus and even pinker cheeks. Also stars a pirouetting Evelyn Thawl in her only credited screen appearance. "
Angels With Dirty Faces
John Farr | 08/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It's no coincidence that both "Angels" and "Casablanca" were directed by Michael Curtiz, since there's very little wrong with either picture. Cagney is the quintessential gangster with a heart of gold, and his real-life friend Pat O'Brien is equally strong as Father Connolly. Beautifully realized in every respect-- one of the all-time champs."
Gangster Film With More Texture
David Baldwin | Philadelphia,PA USA | 02/21/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"What's interesting about "Angels With Dirty Faces" is it does not so much concern itself with the how someone would turn to a life of crime but the why. James Cagney's Rocky Sullivan is a tragic figure of sorts because his lot in life was determined by an indiscretion as a youth which snowballed into stretches in the correction system and various organized crime ventures. On the flip side of the coin, his best friend Jerry Connolly(Pat O'Brien) became a priest. The film also draws an extraordinary canvass of the working class milieu to illustrate the squalor that would encourage someone to turn to crime. The Dead End Kids are used to great effect here to demonstrate the underbelly of the lower-class existence that most people would not want to acknowledge. Humphrey Bogart is effective also here as Sullivan's double-crossing lawyer. Credit director Michael Curtiz for pulling all of these elements together for wholly satisfying experience. This is Cagney's show ultimately, because, in a multi-hued performance he is able to allow the audience to empathize with him and mourn for him even though we disagree with his choices in life. This DVD contains a decent documentary of the film, a pretty good Technicolor short subject about a budding ballerina who wants to make it at Warner Brothers, and a Porky Pig and Daffy Duck cartoon."
Another great James Cagney movie
Christopher W. Damico | NYC | 05/29/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a superb movie. James Cagney was awesome. Dead end kids are all dead now, I think. Very good old time movie. It actually had a moral to it's story. Today's filmakers and actors should take note."