James Cagney returns in one of his most iconic roles of his career. It may have been another gangster role but this was a role with morality and humanity. Angels with Dirty Faces is when a priest tries to help an old friend of his, a gangster, not corrupt the minds of a bunch of street kids who look up to him.
I love that scene! ↑ Nothing like sweet revenge against an old bully of yours:) James Cagney plays Rocky who grew up in the slums of New York as a criminal with his best friend Jerry who is also a criminal. Jerry ended up becoming a priest whereas Rocky kept going in and out of prison as a gangster. A bunch of street kids, played by The Dead End Kids, look up to Rocky and find his activities as cool. When Rocky goes rock bottom, what will the kids think of him then? It was interesting to see a film where two childhood friends end up on opposite sides of the law to show that some are capable of growing up and others are just doing what they know well. If Jerry got caught when he was a kid like Rocky did, do you think Jerry would have ended up like Rocky?
This is the first of three films where we see James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart together. Both of these actors were known for playing gangsters in the 30s so it was nice to see these well-known actors in an antagonistic relationship. Bogart plays Rocky’s corrupt lawyer who owes him $100,000- a deal that was made if Rocky went down for his crime. Cagney and Pat O’Brien have been in six movies together with this one being their third. I liked seeing O’Brien play the girl of Rocky’s childhood who is no-nonsense to Rocky’s nonsense. The Dead End Kids made their debut in the play Dead End and would be in six films together and another 48 films as the Bowery Boys from 1946-1958.
Spoiler Alert!!!!! ↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓
Because the Production Code was in place, they were forced to tell Jack Warner of Warner Brothers that some serious censorship needed to take place with rules such as the police were not allowed to die, no strip poker suggestions, and because Rocky was a kidnapper, a criminal, and a murderer, he was not allowed any sympathy. That is where the Dead End Kids come in for the purpose of making the character of Rocky sympathetic. Do you believe that Rocky went “yellow” in the end to listen to Jerry to avoid The Dead End Kids from looking up to him or was Rocky really not as tough as he made himself out to be? It was so heartbreaking to hear him beg and sounded so real. I like that this ending was up to interpretation considering it was rare back then for films to be ambiguous. This movie is definitely worth looking into as one of the best classic crime films.
Watch one of James Cagney’s best performances and let me know what you think: