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Angels With Dirty Faces

Released Nov 26, 1938 1h 37m Crime Drama List
100% Tomatometer 24 Reviews 92% Audience Score 5,000+ Ratings
Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) and Jerry Connolly (Pat O'Brien) were brought up in one of New York's toughest neighborhoods, Hell's Kitchen. While his buddy Rocky gets caught up in racketeering in reform school, Jerry decides to become a priest. Years later, Rocky is released from prison and returns to Hell's Kitchen, where Jerry works with at-risk children. Rocky wants a temporary safe haven with his old friend before resuming his life of crime, but Jerry hesitates, testing their relationship. Read More Read Less
Angels With Dirty Faces

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Critics Consensus

James Cagney's explosive charisma and Pat O'Brien's steadfast decency are a match made in heaven in this touching battle for a community's soul.

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Critics Reviews

View All (24) Critics Reviews
Jeremiah Kipp Slant Magazine Angels With Dirty Faces benefits from the Production Code because it forces the gangster film to acknowledge its nihilism. Rated: 4/4 Feb 2, 2005 Full Review Steven D. Greydanus Decent Films Rocky Sullivan is riveting. His movements are quick and vital, his speech like machine-gun fire, his demeanor sharp and confident. He is all attitude and style. Rated: B May 8, 2002 Full Review Tony Sloman Radio Times It's a fast-paced, gritty melodrama, which, though much copied and even parodied, has never been bettered. Rated: 5/5 May 30, 2024 Full Review Mattie Lucas From the Front Row An atonement for & a deconstruction of Cagney's bad boy persona in films like The Public Enemy that made him a star, emulating the essence of the Production Code with more grace & emotional weight than anyone actually involved with the code ever managed. Rated: 4/4 Jan 6, 2022 Full Review Matt Brunson Film Frenzy The weighty closing line triggers haunting reflections on chance, destiny, and the capricious nature of the universe. Rated: 4/4 Dec 11, 2021 Full Review Mike Massie Gone With The Twins If the Dead End Kids - complete with their Three Stooges routines and slaphappy slapstick - weren't involved, the movie could have moved more smoothly and featured a more focused message. Rated: 6/10 Jul 24, 2020 Full Review Read all reviews

Audience Reviews

View All (650) audience reviews
Matthew B Since the inception of the gangster movie in the 1930s there has been a concern about the possible effects that such films have on their audiences, especially on younger members. Does the gangster movie expose criminal activities as being ugly and dangerous, and a bad example to follow? Or does the gangster movie glamorise crime? Angels with Dirty Faces could be seen as an externalisation of that debate presented on screen. It shows two men fighting for the souls of the local youths (literally, one of the men believes). The question lies in whether those juveniles will ultimately be swayed into taking the moral and honest path that Catholic priest, Father Jerry Connolly (Pat O'Brien) wishes them to take, or whether they will be seduced into following the crooked path offered to them by charismatic gangster, William ‘Rocky' Sullivan (James Cagney). Of course it is necessary that Rocky should have enough charm to explain why he offers such a dangerous temptation to the youths in this film, but the story goes out of its way to increase our sympathy for him. He is set in contrast to his accomplice and lawyer, Jim Frazier (Humphrey Bogart). While Rocky has a sense of honour, Frazier has none. Another point that the movie makes in favour of Rocky is to show the unhappy freak of fate that led to him becoming a criminal in the first place. Jerry and Rocky get into trouble when they are discovered stealing fountain pens from a railroad car. Jerry escapes, but Rocky is caught and sent to a juvenile reform school. From here we are treated to a montage of scenes showing how his time in incarceration led Rocky into a life of crime. The arbitrary nature of the two boy's fates is emphasised. For the sake of a few fountain pens, Jerry escaped punishment and grew up to become a priest, while Rocky was arrested and became a mobster. I wrote a full review on my blog if you're interested in hearing more of my views on the film. It does include a discussion of the film's ending though: Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars 07/31/23 Full Review Eric G This is a classic gangster film, one that ends with a really positive message. The acting by the Dead End kids is absolutely hilarious and unforgettable. Wait for this line: "Oh, you don't like the beans?" 😆. So many faces are smacked, it's practically like watching the stooges sometimes. I rarely give 5 starts, especially to older films, but this one is incredible. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 06/14/23 Full Review Barry G According to a very popular hoax, Michael Curtiz's best film is called "Casablanca". Well, those so-called cinema experts couldn't be more wrong and Curtiz's masterpiece from 1938 "Angels with Dirty Faces" proves that. This early golden era film fixes everything that was wrong in the gangster movies during the pre-code era. It finally has a moral and it's incredibly moving. One of the best films of all time and absolute must see. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 03/14/23 Full Review Glen M great great film elevates gangster film to Art Rated 5 out of 5 stars 12/13/22 Full Review Audience Member "Angels With Dirty Faces" has been called the gangster movie of the New Deal. Previously, with such early-30s films as "Little Caesar" and "Public Enemy," gangster films at their best were engrossing actioners with charismatic but undeniably evil central figures. "Angels With Dirty Faces," released in 1938, presents a more nuanced view of what makes the modern bad man tick. Is it a bad heart? Or is society to blame? Cagney is undeniably great in the role that made him a legend. His practiced patter never wears thin, and his screen presence is electric throughout. (Especially at the end, and I don't mean that as a pun.) But the screenwriters never let us forget the good in the man. We see him come up against more ruthless elements of the underworld, people like Bogart (a real baddie here) who have no compunction about killing a man if it means avoiding payment of a heavy debt. We see him interact with a group of starry-eyed juveniles (The Dead End Kids) whose nickel-and-dime antics fill him with a poignant but heartily-amusing nostalgia. And we see him try to do right by his former partner in crime, now a priest played by Hugh O'Brien. But Cagney is trapped by the circumstances of his life. He can't walk away from a life of crime, which has made him what he is and gives him the only life satisfaction he knows. He's correctly on guard for double-crossers at every turn. When cornered, his cheery face becomes bug-eyed and menacing. We know he's bad, but we like him, and that puts us in the company of the audience-surrougate figure, Father Connolly. Director Curtiz was an auteur before his time, filling his canvas with images of downtrodden street life. This isn't for mere effect, but to show us why Rocky is what he is and how come he finds little hope for his redemption. There are souls to be saved in this picture, but for Father Connolly, they are Laurie and the boys. He must take on his childhood chum, the same kid who saved Connolly from the perils of the Mean Streets and allowed him to become what he was. It is a choice between God and friendship, and while Connolly has little doubt which way to go, the audience may not be with him all the way. The ending points up this spiritual conflict in some of the most harrowing terms ever brought to screen at that time. When you really think about what's going on behind Connolly's face in that final scene, it's a real tear-inducer. Was Rocky's last scene a put-up job? I guess it can be argued back and forth, but the real question of value is whether, if it was faked, was it enough to perform a miracle even the good Father Connolly wouldn't have quite believed in, the salvation of Rocky. The last image of the boys, desolately accepting the news of their hero's fall, is at once triumphant and bittersweet. Nothing comes easy in this world of ours. "Angels With Dirty Faces" may strike a falsely optimistic note to some, but it is optimism well-earned by the honesty of vision expressed. Add to that clever dialogue, great pacing, and one of cinema's keystone performances by Cagney, and you have a real keeper here. P.S. It also features one of the finest Cagney impersonations ever, by William Tracey as the young Rocky. Funny stuff. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 02/08/23 Full Review matthew d Tough guys born from a rough life. Director Michael Curtiz' crime drama Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) is still poignant nearly a century after its release with its moral parable forewarning the youth against a fatal life of crime. It's very entertaining seeing James Cagney smack, intimidate, influence, and shoot his way through life in and out of prison much to his financial gain and eventual ruin. Cagney is convincing as a tough guy born on the mean streets of the inner city, only to grow jaded and cautious as a shrewd adult man. Cagney is hilarious smacking kids and gangsters alike as he wants his money owed and his royalties due no matter the cost. Cagney also adds a genuine humanity to his mobster Rocky Sullivan as he remembers his true friends and old deals. Pat O'Brien is excellent as the holy roller priest Father Jerry Connelly with his moral speeches and gentle, yet stern manner. Humphrey Bogart is a riot to watch as this squirmy lawyer named James Frazier. You can see where Bogart got his tough guy persona from watching Cagney. Ann Sheridan is lovely and lively as the sweet and perceptive lady Laury Ferguson. George Bancroft is fun as the shyster mob boss Mac Keefer. The entire ensemble of street urchins and gritty gangsters are engaging. Michael Curtiz' direction is striking as he focuses on being empathetic towards kids that become crooks due to dire economic strain and poor upbringing with no real heroes. I love his moody film noir style with rough roads and dark lighting. Sol Polito's cinematography is straight out of a film noir handbook with these staggering close-up shots and swift wide shots for shootouts and basketball games alike. Owen Marks' editing keeps this complex story to its most sincere and thoughtful conclusion with really sharp cuts. Angels with Dirty Faces is 97 minutes of noir haven. Writers Ben Hecht, Warren Duff, John Wexley, and Rowland Brown imagine criminals as redeemable and humanize all the traditional bad guys as having ulterior motives with some decency to them. It's a complex narrative deftly handled by skilled writers with a modern foresight to be empathetic instead of condemning all crooks as irredeemable. Robert M. Haas' art direction is neat as you always get ruined cities, poor apartments, or lavish clubs with a realistic quality to them all. Composer Max Steiner's score is triumphant and atmospheric to offset Orry-Kelly's slick outfits of an older era. Perc Westmore's make-up is rather natural for an old glamor picture of crime drama. In all, Angels with Dirty Faces may end up in Heaven, but that's up to you. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 03/31/23 Full Review Read all reviews
Angels With Dirty Faces

My Rating


Cast & Crew

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Movie Info

Synopsis Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) and Jerry Connolly (Pat O'Brien) were brought up in one of New York's toughest neighborhoods, Hell's Kitchen. While his buddy Rocky gets caught up in racketeering in reform school, Jerry decides to become a priest. Years later, Rocky is released from prison and returns to Hell's Kitchen, where Jerry works with at-risk children. Rocky wants a temporary safe haven with his old friend before resuming his life of crime, but Jerry hesitates, testing their relationship.
Michael Curtiz
Samuel Bischoff
Rowland Brown, John Wexley, Warren Duff
CBS/Fox, Warner Bros., MGM/UA Home Entertainment Inc.
Production Co
First National Pictures
Crime, Drama
Original Language
Release Date (Theaters)
Nov 26, 1938, Wide
Release Date (Streaming)
Jun 5, 2018
1h 37m
Sound Mix
Mono, Vitaphone