Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Angel with Dirty Faces (1938)

Recently, I've been watching the famous James Cagney film from 1938, Angels with Dirty Faces, but not for the first time of course. This was one of Cagney's important films as well as one of the most important films in film history (the scene where Rocky Sullivan turns yellow when going to the electric chair is one of the finest scenes in cinematic history). It was directed by Michael Curtiz, who directed Casablanca—another cinematic masterpiece—and some of James Cagney's other finest pictures, including Yankee Doodle Dandy.

When I saw the trailer before seeing the film for the first time, I was wondering what Humphrey Bogart was doing in a James Cagney picture. I didn't even know that Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney knew or worked together, but apparently this film proved me wrong. But still, Humphrey Bogart was pretty good, and Pat O'Brien was great playing Cagney's childhood friend-turned-priest. Ann Sheridan was good but I wish she didn't interfere with James Cagney's characters. The Dead End Kids really entertained me with their physical humor, particularly during the basketball game, and it was also nice to see people my age in this film. (Speaking of physical humor, one of the Dead End Kids, Leo Gorcey, did a radio show

with Groucho Marx later on.) And as always, James Cagney really amazed me in this film. In the scene where he slaps Leo Gorcey across the face with the envelope containing the crooked money, I was spellbound by Cagney's character. I liked the scene where Pat O'Brien visits James Cagney in prison and asks him to turn yellow at the electric chair for the sake of the Dead End Kids' morality. (Of course, Rocky Sullivan never gives up his aggression as he pushes the guards away when they come to get him & take him to the electric chair.) But did Rocky Sullivan really turn yellow at the electric chair or did he do it as a favor for his friend? I don't know; that is the question. Of course, I think the whole Rocky screaming scene was too dramatic so I don't really watch it. The same goes for the shootout Rocky has with the police in a warehouse near the end of the film. Real bullets, like in The Public Enemy, were used during the filming of the shootout scene and Curtiz wanted Cagney to put his head in a particular place in a window where the police would shoot at him. But of course, Cagney refused, and it's a good thing he refused too because if Cagney had obeyed Michael Curtiz and put his head in the window, there wouldn't have a Yankee Doodle Dandy years later.

There is actually a half-parody/half-reference to this movie in The Simpsons in a Season 19 episode called I Don't Want to Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In this episode, Marge makes a lonely bank robber (voiced by Steve Buscemi) turn himself in by promising him that she'll visit him in prison. However, Marge keeps putting off visiting the poor prisoner so much that he becomes embittered. Then, one night, Marge watches a prison movie called A Kiss Before Frying (which is supposedly a take on some movie title), which is about a prisoner who is confident that his mother will visit him before he goes to the electric chair. Of course, the mother never visits her son and she doesn't show up at his frying, so the son dies yelling, "MAAAAAAAAA!" Now what's interesting is that the character in the movie is supposed look like Cagney in this movie, and actually has the same attitude toward the electric chair that Cagney had. Now I forgot what the character looked like because the last time I saw the episoode, I wasn't interested in Cagney yet, so I wanna see it again.

I also thought the music score was great and beautiful. The guy who composed the score is actually the same guy who composed the score for Casablanca, so you know it's that good. This movie is a must for any James Cagney fan—it was the second James Cagney movie I saw—because it was one of his finest performances, if not his best. (Note: He got the "Whaddya hear, whaddya say" mannerism or whatever from a boy he knew during his childhood in New York's Hell Kitchen.)

Clips from Angels with Dirty Faces:

The parody/reference of this movie from The Simpsons episode:



  1. The end of this film is very poignant. Nice blog.

  2. I really like how you pointed out that even 70 years later, the film is so powerful that the Simpsons did a parody. Proof positive that actors like Cagney did have a lastinf impact on the industry. Well Done!

  3. CF, no more mister nice guy is incredible. The only change I could request would be to use Alice Cooper's original recording instead of a cover; but that is my age talking!

  4. I actually watched this a couple days ago. I love the whole movie except the ending. Nice blog Mr. CagneyFan

  5. I love this film Cagney,Bogey,O'Brien & Sheridan plus one of the greatest endings to a movie ever captured on celluloid.Nice post!



1890s (1) 1930s Hollywood (5) 1931 (2) 1932 (2) 1933 (3) 1934 (4) 1935 (3) 1936 (2) 1937 (1) 1938 (2) 1939 (3) 1940 (3) 1941 (2) 1949 (1) 1950s (1) 1960s (1) Academy Award winners (1) action (3) adapted from play (1) adventure (8) alcoholism (1) Allen Jenkins (4) ambulance chasers (1) an affair to remember (1) Angels with Dirty Faces (1) Ann Sheridan (3) Asians in Films (1) aviation films (3) B-Movies (2) baby boomers (1) bad set designs (1) been a long time (1) behind-the-scenes movies (2) Berlin (1) Berlin Wall 20th Anniversary (1) Bette Davis (2) Billy Wilder (1) biopics (3) Blonde Crazy (1) blue-collar workers (1) bootlegging (1) box office hits (1) boxing (1) Busby Berkeley (1) Cagney makes weird noises (1) Cagney's ugly haircut (1) California (1) Canada (1) car-racing (1) casablanca (1) Ceiling Zero (1) Character Actors (13) Chicago (1) child stars (2) City for Conquest (1) Cold War (1) comedy (9) Communism (1) Communist hippies (1) corruption (1) costume designers (1) country boy Cagney (1) country life (1) crime (11) crimebeats (1) dairy farmers (1) daylight saving time (1) Death Valley (1) Dennis Morgan (2) dentistry (1) desert town (1) Dick Powell (2) dishonesty (1) doctor zhivago (1) dramas (21) drinking (1) Edmund O'Brien (1) Elia Kazan (1) epics (1) famous grapefruit scene (1) fantasy (1) fast-paced comedies (1) FBI (1) femme fatales (1) film noir (2) film scores by Max Steiner (1) Frank McHugh (9) future Fred Mertz (2) G-Men (1) gangster (8) George Brent (1) George C. Scott (1) George Raft (1) Germany (1) Gloria Stuart (1) Great Guy (1) Guns in the Movies (12) hair-pulling scene (1) He Was Her Man (1) headbutting (2) Henry Fonda (1) Here Comes the Navy (1) Hollywood parody (3) hotels (1) Howard Hawks (2) Humphrey Bogart (3) Indie films (2) Ireland (1) Irene Manning (1) Irish (1) Irish families (1) Irish fighting units (1) Irish heritage (3) Irish-themed (2) iron man 2 (1) J. Edgar Hoover (1) Jack Lemmon (1) James Cagney (40) James Cagney films (1) Jean Harlow (1) Jeanne Cagney (1) Jeffrey Lynn (2) Jimmy the Gent (1) Joan Blondell (6) Joan Leslie (1) Joe E. Brown (1) John Ford (1) Lady Killer (1) Las Vegas (1) Latino (1) legendary actors (1) leprechaun (1) Lloyd Bacon (3) loose women (2) Loretta Young (1) Los Angeles (2) madmen (1) Mae Clarke (2) makeup artists (1) Makeup effects (1) Mervyn LeRoy (1) Michael Curtiz (4) Mickey Rooney (1) Midwestern crime sweep (1) military dramas (1) milk war (1) Mister Roberts (1) municipal workers (1) musical comedies of the Great Depression (1) musicals (5) mystery (1) Nevada (1) New York melodramas (1) newspaper films (1) Oedipal Complex (1) Olivia de Havilland (3) on the lam (1) on-screen couples (1) only you (1) Pat O'Brien (7) patriotism (2) police (1) Political Films (6) Poverty Row (1) Pre-Code films (9) Pre-Code Films (1) Priscilla Lane (1) prison movies (2) Prohibition Era (1) psychopaths (1) racism (1) racketeers (1) Ralph Bellamy (2) Raoul Walsh (3) Ray Milland (1) Red Buttons (1) reformed criminals (1) Rita Hayworth (1) Robert Armstrong (1) robert downey jr. (4) roman holiday (1) romance (11) romantic comedies (10) Rosemary Lane (1) Ruby Keeler (2) Sambre Dance (1) Screenwriters (2) screwball comedies (1) service pictures (1) Shakespeare (1) Shakespeare film adaptations (1) shamrocks (1) sherlock holmes (2) small towns (1) social dramas (2) Something to Sing About (1) sports films (1) St. Louis (1) St. Patrick's Day (1) tabloid newspaper reporters (1) Technicolor (2) The Bride Came C.O.D. (1) the crowd roars (1) the Dead End Kids (1) The Fighting 69th (1) the irish in us (2) the mayor of hell (1) The Oklahoma Kid (1) The Public Enemy (1) The Roaring Twenties (1) The Simpsons (1) The St. Louis Kid (1) The Strawberry Blonde (1) Torrid Zone (1) trivia (1) turkeys (1) turn-of-the-century NYC (1) versatility (1) Virginia Mayo (2) Walter Huston (1) war effort (1) war films (3) Warner Brothers (11) wearing of the green (1) westerns (2) White Heat (1) William Dieterle (1) William Powell (1) William Wellman (1) winner take all (1) World War I films (1) World War II films (1) wrestling films (1)

Search This Blog

E! Online (US) - Movie News