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Matt Hough

Senior HTF Member
Apr 24, 2006
Charlotte, NC
Real Name
Matt Hough
A brilliant character study amalgamated with an engrossing crime drama, Michael Curtiz’s Angels with Dirty Faces is one of the jewels in the Warner Bros. gangster crown.

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

Released: 26 Nov 1938
Rated: Passed
Runtime: 97 min

Director: Michael Curtiz
Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir

Cast: James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Humphrey Bogart
Writer(s): John Wexley, Warren Duff, Rowland Brown

Plot: A priest tries to stop a gangster from corrupting a group of street kids.

IMDB rating: 7.9
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information

Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0...

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Senior HTF Member
Sep 8, 2009
Real Name
Matt H. writes in his excellent review: "Not only does Rocky know how to conduct himself with rats of his own stripe, but director Michael Curtiz directs a local basketball game in which the street gang (played by Dead End Kids Billy Halop, Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, Gabriel Dell, Huntz Hall, and Bernard Punsley) attempts to strong arm the rules but are completely put in their place by the dominating and magnetic Rocky that sets up the gang’s adulation of him for the rest of the film leading to its climactic moment of truth which ranks as one of cinema’s most unforgettable moments. Michael Curtiz stages the last mile with alternating close-ups and shadowy long shots that maximizes the tension...."

The direction, cinematography (Sol Polito), and editing (Owen Marks) of this movie impressed me. A rather deluxe crime movie that clearly Warner gave first-class treatment. Angels with Dirty Faces is now one of my favorite movies of 1938, more or less tied with Robin Hood, In Old Chicago, and maybe Boys Town. But there are still a lot of movies from 1938 that I haven't seen.

Here's some interesting trivia from imdb....

The Dead End Kids terrorized the set during shooting. They threw other actors off with their ad-libbing, and once cornered co-star Humphrey Bogart and stole his trousers. They didn't figure on James Cagney's street-bred toughness, however. The first time Leo Gorcey pulled an ad-lib on Cagney, the star stiff-armed the young actor right above the nose. From then on the gang behaved.

To play Rocky, James Cagney drew on his memories of growing up in New York's Yorkville, a tough ethnic neighborhood on the upper east side, just south of Spanish Harlem.. His main inspiration was a drug-addicted pimp who stood on a street corner all day hitching his trousers, twitching his neck, and repeating, "Whadda ya hear! Whadda ya say!" Those mannerisms came back to haunt Cagney. He later wrote in his autobiography, "I did those gestures maybe six times in the picture. That was over 30 years ago--and the impressionists have been doing me doing him ever since."

A montage features a shot of gangsters bombing a storefront. This shot is actually an alternate angle of the bombing of a store in The Public Enemy (1931).

Because of the controversy over gangster films, the picture was banned outright in Denmark, China, Poland, Finland and parts of Canada and Switzerland.

James Cagney's other inspiration for Rocky was his childhood friend, Peter "Bootah" Hessling, who was convicted of murder and "sent to the electric chair" on 7/21/27. The night Bootah was executed, Cagney was playing in a Broadway show and wept upon hearing of his friend's death.

The moment in which Rocky forces a trailing hood to take his place inside the phone booth in the pharmacy to get killed was inspired by the killing of notorious New York gangster Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll. In the real incident, Coll was locked in a gang war with Dutch Schultz. During the war Coll hid in an apartment above a pharmacy and would only come out to go into the pharmacy and call his girlfriend from the phone booth. Schultz found out about this and when Coll went to make his routine phone call, two of Schultz's gunmen walked in and shot Coll to death.

While filming Rocky's shootout with the police, one scene called for James Cagney to be right at the opening as machine-gun bullets took out the windows above his head. At this point in his career Cagney had experience with the unpredictability of using live gunfire and he later recalled that "common sense or a hunch" made him wary about the upcoming scene, and he finally decided to tell director Michael Curtiz to shoot the scene in process. As Cagney walked away, the professional machine-gunner--a man named Burke--fired the shots. One of the bullets ricocheted, hitting the steel edge of the window and going right through the wall where Cagney's head had been. This experience convinced Cagney that "flirting this way with real bullets was ridiculous".

Rocky's execution was shot at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, NY.
Architect Lewis Pilcher designed the death house--it went into service in the early 1920s. The building is still at Sing Sing Penitentiary.

angels poster.jpeg
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