Angels with Dirty Faces
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by John Wexley and Warren Duff from a story by Rowland Brown
#122 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
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.
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.
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.