Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Movies A to Z: Angels with Dirty Faces

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938 dir. Michael Curtiz) is Warner Brothers social conscience movie making at its best. Pat O’Brien and Jimmy Cagney are perfect as the boyhood friends whose lives take opposite turns. One couldn’t run fast enough to escape the cops after a bit of childish stealing and ends up in reform school, prison and a life of crime. The other becomes a reformist priest, Jerry Connolly, ministering to the Dean End Kids of his parish and pitting himself against corruption, determined to weed it out of his city even if it means turning against the friend he still loves, despite his criminal ways. Cagney is brilliant in the role of Rocky Sullivan. He’s wound up like a spring as he delivers his snappy liners (“Waddya know? Waddya say?”). “It girl” Ann Sheridan is great as street-smart Laury Ferguson, caught between her love for Rocky and her innate sense of justice. Humphrey Bogart, on the verge of becoming a leading man in his own right, is at this point in his career still in the role of sideman to Cagney (as in other classic Warner gangster films such as The Roaring Twenties). His performance as the menacing, scheming and slippery James Frazier shows the charisma he will soon take into leading roles in such films as The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. Michael Curtiz does not get the attention he deserves as one of the great Hollywood film directors (Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood). His use of shadows during Cagney’s walk to the chair (see the still below) and the way the camera tracks with the anti-hero’s every step leads to a dramatic climax you will not soon forget. Rocky’s final act of selfless service redeems him and Father Connolly leads the Dead End kids up the stairs out of the basement and into the light of heaven. Highly recommended – four stars. You can enjoy the trailer by clicking here.


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