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Angels with Dirty Faces

theatrical poster
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Produced by Samuel Bischoff
Written by Rowland Brown
John Wexley
Warren Duff
Ben Hecht (uncredited)
Charles MacArthur (uncredited)
Starring James Cagney
Pat O'Brien
The Dead End Kids
Humphrey Bogart
Ann Sheridan
George Bancroft
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Sol Polito
Editing by Owen Marks
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date(s) November 24, 1938
Running time 97 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Preceded by Crime School (1938)
Followed by They Made Me a Criminal (1939)

Angels with Dirty Faces is a 1938 American gangster film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, the Dead End Kids and Humphrey Bogart, along with Ann Sheridan and George Bancroft. The film was written by Rowland Brown, John Wexley and Warren Duff with uncredited assistance from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.

Contents

Plot

Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) and Jerry Connolly (Pat O'Brien) are childhood friends who robbed a railroad car as kids. Rocky saved Jerry's life during the chase by pulling him out of the way of a steam train while running from the guards that saw them. Rocky was then caught by the police, but Jerry - who could run faster - escaped. Rocky, after being sent to reform school, grows up to become a notorious gangster, while Jerry has become a priest.

Rocky returns to his old neighborhood, where Jerry is running a home that intends to keep young boys away from a life of crime. Six of those boys, Soapy (Billy Halop), Swing (Bobby Jordan), Bim (Leo Gorcey), Patsy (Gabriel Dell), Crabface (Huntz Hall), and Hunky (Bernard Punsly), idolize Rocky, and Jerry attempts to keep his former friend from corrupting them. (These boys were to star in Dead End Kids/East Side Kids/The Bowery Boys films).

Meanwhile Rocky gets involved with Frazier (Humphrey Bogart), a crooked lawyer, and Keefer (George Bancroft), a shady businessman and municipal contractor. They try to dispose of Rocky, but he finds the record book that they keep where they list the bribes to city officials. Jerry learns of these events and warns Rocky to leave before he informs the authorities. Rocky ignores his advice and Jerry gets the public's attention and informs them all of the crooked government, causing Frazier and Keefer to plot to kill him. Rocky overhears this plot and kills them to protect his childhood friend.

Rocky is then captured following an elaborate shootout in a building, and sentenced to die. Jerry visits him just before his execution and asks him to do him one last favor - to die pretending to be a screaming, snivelling coward, which would end the boys' idolization of him. Rocky refuses, and insists he will be "tough" to the end, and not give up the one thing he has left, his pride. At the very last moment he appears to change his mind and has to be dragged to the electric chair. The viewer is never told whether Rocky genuinely was afraid, a "rotten sniveling coward", or if he does it for the Father and the boys. The boys hear about what happened and decide he was a coward. Then Father Jerry asks them to say a prayer with him, "for a boy who couldn't run as fast as I could".

Cast

James Cagney and Pat O'Brien were great friends offscreen. Angels with Dirty Faces was the sixth of nine feature films they would make together.

Awards and honors

James Cagney won the 1939 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for his role. In addition, the film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (James Cagney), Best Director and Best Writing, Original Story.

Memorable lines

  • Father Jerry: "All right, fellas... let's go say a prayer for a boy that couldn't run as fast as I could".
  • Rocky Sullivan: "Whadda ya hear; whadda ya say?!"'
  • Rocky : " like sitting in a barber's chair.. " just before going to the electric chair.

When first offered the project, Cagney's agent was convinced that his star property would never consent to playing a role where he would be depicted as an abject coward being dragged to his execution. Cagney, however, was enthusiastic about the chance to play Rocky. He saw it as a suitable vehicle to prove to critics and front office honchos that he had a broad acting range that extended far beyond tough guy roles. Bogart, for one, was very impressed by the death house scene and informed Cagney as such.

Adaptations to Other Media

Angels With Dirty Faces was dramatized as a radio play on the May 22, 1939 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater, with James Cagney and Pat O'Brien reprising their film roles.

In popular culture

  • Warner Brothers created a 1939 cartoon that spoofed the movie called Thugs with Dirty Mugs.
  • During the 1950s, three Argentinian footballers - Antonio Angelillo, Enrique Sivori and Humberto Maschio - formed a talented inside forward line for their Country. They acquired the nickname "Angels with Dirty Faces" when they all moved to Italy in the latter part of the decade to play for the likes of Juventus. The name was given on account of their typically South American colour and ability. They were also known as ‘The Trio of Death’ because of their clinical finishing.[citation needed]
  • A parody of the film appears in Home Alone as Angels with Filthy Souls. In the parody, Gangster Johnny fires a lengthy machine gun salvo before remarking, "Keep the change, ya filthy animal".
    • In Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, scenes from a sequel to that film, Angels with Even Filthier Souls. In the sequel, Johnny fires his Tommy gun before saying "Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal. And a Happy New Year". In the two movies, Kevin uses the movies as an illusion to make others think that they were talking to Johnny, and that he was shooting at them.
  • The famous Irish bar "Rocky Sullivan's Pub" in New York City was named after Cagney's character.[citation needed]
  • Angels with Dirty Faces is often credited as the favorite film of Dr Edward Fitzgerald from the popular UK psychological crime drama Cracker[citation needed]
  • The legendary British punk band Sham 69 penned a hit single "Angels With Dirty Faces" b/w "The Cockney Kids Are Innocent" in April 1978.

References

External links

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