Angels with Dirty Faces is a 1938 American gangster film directed by Michael Curtiz, and starring James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, and the Dead End Kids. The film was written by Rowland Brown, John Wexley, and Warren Duff, with uncredited assistance from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.
Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) and Jerry Connolly (Pat O'Brien) are childhood friends who robbed a railroad car as kids. Rocky saved Jerry's life during the chase by pulling him out of the way of a steam train while running from the guards that saw them. Rocky was then caught by the police, but Jerryâ"who could run fasterâ"escaped. Rocky, after being sent to reform school, grows up to become a notorious gangster, while Jerry has become a priest.
Rocky returns to his old neighborhood, where Jerry is the parish priest and intends to keep young boys away from a life of crime. Six of those boys, Soapy (Billy Halop), Swing (Bobby Jordan), Bim (Leo Gorcey), Patsy (Gabriel Dell), Crabface (Huntz Hall), and Hunky (Bernard Punsly), idolize Rocky, and Jerry attempts to keep his former friend from corrupting them. (These boys were to star in Dead End Kids/East Side Kids/The Bowery Boys films).
Meanwhile, Rocky gets involved with Frazier (Humphrey Bogart), a crooked lawyer, and Keefer (George Bancroft), a shady businessman and municipal contractor. They try to dispose of Rocky, but he finds the record book that they keep where they list the bribes to city officials. Jerry learns of these events and warns Rocky to leave before he informs the authorities. Rocky ignores his advice and Jerry gets the public's attention and informs them all of the crooked government, causing Frazier and Keefer to plot to kill him. Rocky overhears this plot and kills them to protect his childhood friend.
Rocky is then captured following an elaborate shootout in a building, and sentenced to die. Jerry visits him just before his execution and asks him to do him one last favorâ"to die pretending to be a screaming, sniveling coward, which would end the boys' idolization of him. Rocky refuses, and insists he will be "tough" to the end, and not give up the one thing he has left, his pride. At the very last moment he appears to change his mind and has to be dragged to the electric chair (whether his cries are genuine or done only to fulfill Jerry's request is left to the viewer's imagination). The boys read newspaper headlines that Rocky died a coward, although not believing it at first, Father Jerry verifies that the paper account was accurate. Then Father Jerry asks them to say a prayer with him, "for a boy who couldn't run as fast as I could".
- Principal cast
- James Cagney as William "Rocky" Sullivan
- Pat O'Brien as Fr. Jerry Connolly
- Humphrey Bogart as Jim Frazier
- Ann Sheridan as Laury Martin
- Supporting cast
- George Bancroft as Mac Keefer
- Edward Pawley as Edwards
- Adrian Morris as Blackie
- Joe Downing as Steve
- Frankie Burke as William "Rocky" Sullivan, during adolescence
- William Tracy as Jerry Connelly, during adolescence
- Marilyn Knowlden as Laury Martin, during adolescence
- The Dead End Kids
- Billy Halop as Soapy
- Bobby Jordan as Swing
- Leo Gorcey as Bim
- Gabriel Dell as Pasty
- Huntz Hall as Crab
- Bernard Punsly as Hunky
Awards and honors
James Cagney won the 1939 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for his role. In addition, the film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (James Cagney), Best Director and Best Writing, Original Story.
Angels with Dirty Faces was nominated for AFI's Top 10 Gangster Films list.
Michael Curtiz was nominated twice for Best Director, one for this film and the other for the box office hit comedy melodrama Four Daughters. However, Curtiz could not take the Oscar with him, as Frank Capra took the Oscar for You Can't Take It With You. Cagney would lose to Spencer Tracy for Boys Town.
When first offered the project, Cagney's agent was convinced that his star property would never consent to playing a role where he would be depicted as an abject coward being dragged to his execution. Cagney, however, was enthusiastic about the chance to play Rocky. He saw it as a suitable vehicle to prove to critics and front office honchos that he had a broad acting range that extended far beyond tough guy roles. Bogart, for one, was very impressed by the death house scene and informed Cagney as such.
When Jack Warner saw The Dead End Kids in a production of Samuel Goldwyn's Dead End, he quickly hired the cast. For the first test as The Dead End Kids, Warner cast them in the movie Crime School opposite Humphrey Bogart, which was a success which led to the culmination of this movie.
After this movie, Michael Curtiz would work again with James Cagney in films such as Yankee Doodle Dandy and Captains of the Clouds. Curtiz would later reteam with Humphrey Bogart for his landmark film, that won him an Oscar, Casablanca.
The film would mark the first of three films with Cagney and Bogart, the next two films would be made the following year, The Oklahoma Kid and The Roaring Twenties.
Adaptations to other media
Angels with Dirty Faces was dramatized as a radio play on the May 22, 1939 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater, with James Cagney and Pat O'Brien reprising their film roles.
Warner Brothers created a 1939 cartoon spoofing this film, titled Thugs with Dirty Mugs.
A parody of the film appears in Home Alone as Angels with Filthy Souls. In Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, scenes are shown from a sequel to that film, Angels with Even Filthier Souls.
Ram Jaane is a 1995 Indian Bollywood remake. Shah Rukh Khan was cast as Rocky in the movie alongside Juhi Chawla in one of his early villain roles during his first years in Bollywood. It took almost three years to complete.
The film became an inspiration for a sketch on Sesame Street, titled "Monsters with Dirty Faces".
"Angels with Dirty Faces", a song by Los Lobos from the 1992 album Kiko
- Angels with Dirty Faces at the Internet Movie Database