Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

Angels with Dirty FacesAngels with Dirty Faces Poster
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by John Wexley and Warren Duff from a story by Rowland Brown
Warner Bros.

First viewing
#122 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Rocky Sullivan: ‘Morning, gentlemen. Nice day for a murder.

James Cagney is charismatic as a tough career criminal with a tiny spark of humanity deep within.

Rocky Sullivan (Cagney) and Jerry Connelly (Pat O’Brien) grew up together on the mean streets of New York.  When they are caught in a petty theft, Jerry escapes and Rocky goes to the reformatory where he learns the ropes.  Finally, Rocky takes the rap for a crime committed by lawyer Jim Frazier (Humphrey Bogart) on the condition that Frazier will hold the $100,000 proceeds and hand it over when he gets out of jail.

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Rocky goes back to his old neighborhood when he gets out of jail and looks up his old buddy Jerry, who is now a priest.  Jerry has been trying to straighten out a gang of teenagers (the Dead End Kids).  Rocky can get through to the kids but this unfortunately causes them to idolize him and his gangster ways.

When Rocky looks up Frazier to try to get his money back, Frazier is none too pleased to see him. As a consequence, many people end up dead.  Jerry gives Rocky a last chance to do the right thing.  With Ann Sheridan as Rocky’s girl and George Bancroft as a gang boss.

Angels With Dirty Faces 1

This film is worth seeing for Cagney’s exceptional performance.  He is a bundle of energy and makes Rocky a multi-dimensional character.  He is so good and basically likeable that the rest of the movie suffers by comparison.  Father Jerry is supposed to be the good guy here but Pat O’Brien takes a preachy tone that wouldn’t make anyone try to emulate him. Bogart is great but doesn’t have much of a part and the Dead End Kids have less to do and with less effect than in Dead End.  I had been looking forward to seeing this for quite a while and was somewhat disappointed.  Cagney’s performance is unmissable, however.

Cagney, Curtiz, and story writer Rowland Brown all received Oscar nominations for their work in Angels with Dirty Faces.



The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)

The Charge of the Light Brigadecharge of the light brigade poster
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Michael Jacoby and Rowland Leigh inspired by the poem by Tennyson
Warner Bros.

First viewing


When can their glory fade?/ O the wild charge they made!/ All the world wonder’d./ Honor the charge they made!/ Honor the Light Brigade,/ Noble six hundred! — Alfred Lord Tennyson “The Charge of the Light Brigade”

The war film is not a favorite genre of mine, but there is no question that this is an expertly made film of some power.  I don’t know if I could have watched it, however, if I had known ahead of time about the number of horses killed in filming the Charge.

This movie does not make any pretense of historical accuracy.  The regiment, characters, and incidents are all fictional.  The only thing that actually happened was the Charge itself, though not for the reasons or with the results claimed.

It is India, 1856.  As the movie begins, officials are telling war lord Surat Kahn that the stipend the British had been paying his father will cease.  Kahn nevertheless continues to entertain the party with a tiger hunt during which Major Geoffrey Vickers (Eroll Flynn) saves Kahn’s life.  We learn that the Russians would be only to glad to fill the gap left by the British.

Meanwhile, Geoffrey is engaged to his Colonel’s daughter Elsa Campbell (Olivia de Havilland).  Unfortunately, Elsa has fallen in love with Geoffrey’s brother Perry (Patric Knowles) while Geoffrey was away on duty.  When Perry tells Geoffrey about their love, he refuses to believe it.  For one reason or another, Geoffrey is always dragged elsewhere just as Elsa tries to talk to him.

Charge of the Light Brigade 2

Kahn waits until most of the men at the British garrison are away at manuevers and strikes the hopelessly undermanned fortress.  He offers surrender terms which the British are forced to accept and then massacres all the survivors of the initial attack except Elsa who is saved by Geoffrey.  Later, Geoffrey’s regiment is sent to the Crimea because it is there that they will find Kahn and, with luck, exact vengeance.   With David Niven as an officer, Donald Crisp as Elsa’s father, and just about every middle-aged British character actor in Hollywood at the time.

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I liked this quite a bit.  All the acting was excellent and Michael Curtiz kept the action rolling along at a good pace.  The story picks up a lot when the focus shifts away from the love triangle to the fighting.  Unfortunately, Warner Bros. resorted to very cruel measures to get realistic battle footage.

Charge of the Light Brigade 3

Dozens of horses were killed during the making of this picture due to the use of trip wires in the Charge sequence.  This led to action by Congress to ensure the safety of animals in filmaking and the ASPCA to ban trip wires in its guidelines. Because of the public outcry about the scene, the film was never re-released by Warner Brothers.

After I read about this, I kept thinking about how awful it was to take an animal who had been trained to trust and obey its rider knowingly into harm’s way.  So sad.



Mildred Pierce (1945)

Mildred PierceMildred Pierce Poster
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Warner Bros.

First viewing
#176 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Ida: Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young.

To start off the film noir fest with a bang, here is a studio big-budget effort that garnered Joan Crawford a long-awaited Best Actress Oscar, along with six other Academy Award nominations.  In 1996, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected for preservation in the United States Library of Congress National Film Registry.

The story is based on James M. Cain’s novel of the same name.  There are some key differences from the book.  Mildred Pierce is a middle-class housewife who makes money on the side baking cakes and pies.  She lives for her two daughters Veda and Kay and tries especially hard to placate her difficult, grasping elder daughter Veda.  Mildred and her husband Bert separate amicably after arguing about his visits to a lady friend and Mildred’s child-rearing style.

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Mildred finds work as a waitress and struggles to satisfy the increasingly spoiled Veda’s demands for the finer things in life by selling pies.  When Veda finds her mother’s waitress uniform and accuses her of being a peasant, Mildred decides she must have more money and opens a restaurant, with the help of perpetual suitor Wally.  Along the way, she meets the equally entitled shiftless socialite Monte and it looks like she will be burdened by two ungrateful whiners for life.  A darker fate perhaps awaits …  With Joan Crawford as Mildred, Ann Blyth as Veda, Jack Carson as Wally, Zachary Scott as Monte and Eve Arden as Mildred’s wise-cracking friend Ida.


Mildred Pierce 1

I thought this was pretty terrific.  A little bit of Joan Crawford goes a long way with me but here she was remarkably restrained with the old eyebrows.  It may be her best performance.  Ernest Haller’s cinematography is beautiful, particularly the night scenes.  The script is tight and it moves right along.  I love Eve Arden and was delighted to see her at her best here, in an Oscar-nominated performance.  Of the men, I was most impressed with Jack Carson.

This is not quite what I think of as noir.  There is a lot of high key lighting, glamour, and a lack of grim city streets.  However, it does have that expressionist lighting.  My definition of noir for this exercise is basically any film that is included in Michael F. Keaney’s Film Noir Guide.  Keaney came up with 745 films from the period 1940-1959 made in the “noir style” in any of several different genres, including melodrama.  Keaney sees the “noir themes” in Mildred Pierce as betrayal, obsession, and greed.



Captain Blood (1935)

Captain BloodCaptain Blood Poster
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Warner Bros

Repeat viewing
#88 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Dr. Peter Blood: Up that rigging, you monkeys! Aloft! There’s no chains to hold you now. Break out those sails and watch them fill with the wind that’s carrying us all to freedom!

Captain Peter Blood (Errol Flynn) is living peacefully as a physician when he is called on to tend a wounded rebel.  For his trouble, he is convicted of treason and transported to Jamaica as a slave.  Arabella (Olivia de Havilland), the niece of a wealthy landowner (Lionel Atwill), admires Blood’s defiant spirit and buys him.  Blood mightily resents this.  His medical skills make him a favorite of the gouty Governor of the island and allow him to plan his escape and that of his comrades.  The men soon turn pirate but Arabella and her uncle seem part of Blood’s fate.  Also starring Basil Rathbone as the French pirate Levasseur and a host of Warner Brothers character actors.

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This movie was the first pairing of Errol Flynn and the 18-year-old Olivia de Havilland and made them both stars.  It drags a bit in spots but basically is an exciting romantic adventure with thrilling sword fights and sea battles and dynamite chemistry between the two leads.  The magnificent score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold adds to the fun.



The Adventures of Robin Hood

The Adventures of Robin Hoodadventures-of-robin-hood-DVDcover
Directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley
Warner Bros. Pictures

#114 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Second Viewing
IMDb users say 8.0/10; I say 9.0/10


Lady Marian Fitzswalter: Why, you speak treason!

Robin Hood: Fluently.

There are times that call for uncomplicated entertainment where virtue triumphs and true love prospers.  The Great Depression was such a time.  I would submit that the 2010’s are another, which may account for the current popularity of Superhero comic book fare.  Since I prefer my films without explosions, graphic violence or CGI, The Adventures of Robin Hood is where I want to turn when I’m looking for an action pick-me-up.

Adventures of Robin Hood

True Love

Whatever his personal life, in 1938 Errol Flynn was the embodiment of swashbuckling, wise-cracking virtue and perfect for playing Robin Hood as the merriest of the Merry Men. We meet him as he is rescuing poacher Much from summary execution by the coldly cruel Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone).  However, his grand entrance is shortly afterward when he arrives at a banquet hosted by Prince John (Claude Raines) and deposits the poached deer before the prince.  This is followed by a classic fight scene in which Robin fights off at least 20 Norman foes single handed with sword, arrows, and sheer derring-do.

adventuresofrobinhood with deer

Robin first sets eyes on the beautiful Lady Marian, intelligently played by the lovely Olivia de Havilland, at the banquet.  As a Norman, she at first despises this Saxon upstart but learns to respect and then love him for his loyalty to her guardian King Richard and his goodness to the downtrodden.  Robin is appropriately chivalric throughout.  In fact, a tenant of the oath taken by the  Merry Men is to protect all women whether Norman or Saxon.

Three Villains - Melville Cooper, Basil Rathbone, and Claude Raines

Three villains – Melville Cooper, Basil Rathbone, and Claude Raines

The supporting cast is a roster of some of the most familiar faces in ’30’s Hollywood. Each villain has his own consistent attributes from Claude Raines’s cynical, snide Prince John, to Melville Cooper’s cowardly Sheriff of Nottingham.  Basil Rathbone contributes his expert swordsmanship to the fabulous sword duel with Robin that closes the film.  Then we have the good guys.  It is hard to imagine a more perfect crew than Alan Hale as Little John, Eugene Pallette as Friar Tuck, Patric Knowles as Will Scarlet, and Herbert Mundin as Much.   Una O’Conner hams it up as Marian’s loyal lady’s maid Bess.

Adventures of Robin Hood Climactic Duel

The bright glittering costumes and sets may not present an accurate picture of the Middle Ages but they do contribute to the storybook feeling of the piece.  Those who are looking for a gritty, nuanced portrayal of the Robin Hood legend would do better elsewhere.  Those viewers who are out for a good time can stop right here for 102 minutes of unadulterated fun.

Clip – The Archery Tournament