Tuesday, February 23, 2010

115. Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

Running Time: 97 minutes
Directed By: Michael Curtiz
Written By: Rowland Brown, John Wexley, Warren Duff
Main Cast: James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, George Bancroft


So Netflix finally shipped "Angels with Dirty Faces" and it always turns out that the movies I'm forced to skip over, end up being so good when I finally get to see them. This was a FANTASTIC gangster film, that was more than just a gangster film and one that I really enjoyed.

Rocky Sullivan (Cagney) is a gangster who's been in and out of prison for most of his life, for various reasons, ranging from robbery to assault. The film starts out with Rocky as a young kid, hanging out with his pal Jerry Connolly. They're bumming around one day and decide to pick a lock on a freight train and steal some fountain pens from the cargo. The cops end up busting them and they take off running, Jerry makes a clean getaway, but Rocky is caught. Jerry visits Rocky in the juvenile detention center and tells Rocky that he wants to give himself up too, so they'll go a little lighter on Rocky. Rocky won't hear of it and sends Jerry away. The film flashes through to Rocky's adulthood and he's being let out of prison for the umpteenth time. When he gets out he's planning to receive a large some of money from his lawyer, Frazier, to the sum of $100,000. He goes to see Frazier and get his money, but Frazier tells him that he doesn't have it yet, but he'll have it soon. Rocky then goes to visit Jerry, who he hasn't seen in ages and who is now a catholic priest. Rocky still thinks just as much of Jerry as he did when they were kids and the two are still good friends, despite their different lifestyles.

The movie goes through a phase in the middle, where Rocky tries to help Jerry out a bit, with some of the troubled youth in town. He takes up with a group of kids, a bunch of hoodlums and takes them under his wing. Teaching them the ins and outs of being a good criminal when Jerry's not around and trying to get them involved in Jerry's recreation center program, when Jerry is around. Rocky also takes up with a girl, one that he bullied when he was younger and who, after getting even with him, forgives him. Eventually, it's made known that Frazier has no intention of paying Rocky and Rocky must resort to some of his old street tricks in order to get his dough. Jerry ultimately swindles the money out of Frazier and his new associate, Keefer (Bancroft). The story comes to a climax, with Jerry telling Rocky that he's tired of all the crime and corruption in the city and doesn't want the kids to get wrapped up in the same things Rocky did. Jerry tells Rocky that even if he has to step on him, that he's making a big run at cleaning up the city and the criminals that populate it.

This movie has a great good vs. evil feel to it. Rocky Sullivan is a likable character, so I personally found myself, wanting to root for the bad guy here, in Rocky. However, you also have a very likable character in Jerry, and so you're torn between these two separate sides, that are in the form of two best friends, which makes it all the more interesting. Cagney plays Rocky perfect, not too rough, but very streetwise and I actually ended up liking this picture a lot more than "The Public Enemy" (which I originally gave a '10', but later lowered to a '7.5'). This is one of the definitive James Cagney pictures in my opinion and while I haven't seen a ton of his movies, this is probably my favorite, and it would take something STELLAR to topple this one, as far as Cagney pictures go. The scene of the film is tragic, and while I don't want to give away the ending here, the last line of the picture is sort of bittersweet: "Let's say a prayer, for a man who couldn't run as fast as I could" says Jerry Connolly, referring more than just to that day after they tried to steal the fountain pens, but also to the fact that Rocky couldn't outrun the dreaded hand of crime, and eventually he got wrapped up in it, until it lead to his demise. Fortunately, Jerry was able to outrun, and turned to the side of good.

RATING: 10/10 And that's not a rating that will be changing anytime soon, as this was really one of my favorite movies from the book, out of all of them.

NEXT UP: Olympia Parts 1 and 2...More Nazi propaganda from the mind of Leni Riefenstahl from the 1936 Summer Olympics.

February 23, 2010 11:52am
Revised: March 4, 2010 6:54pm

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