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: