(Review originally written at 7 August 2008)

It's mostly a movie that is made great by its Oscar-nominated story. It's a typical '30's gangster movie only with a more humane and dramatic twist to it, in which two childhood friends find each other on the other side of the law, despite still having a strong friendship. It's not necessarily Michael Curtiz his best directed movie and it also doesn't feature Cagney or Bogart in their best or most memorable roles but it nevertheless is one great solid movie, that you'll not easily forget.

The movie might sound like a really preachy and moralistic one that condemns violence and says that is's better to come to church. Even though this perhaps in a nutshell is still what this movie is all about, the movie itself luckily doesn't ever get preachy or moralistic like. This is not just due to the fine written of the movie but also thanks to the performances of the lead actors, that mostly make the movie and its story work out so effectively and realistic.

Humphrey Bogart plays a sort of villainous gangster role in this one. He really wasn't an established actor yet back then and he's also third billed actor for this movie. It really wasn't until the '40's that he really finally had his big breakthrough and became an established actor and started playing leading roles in some big well known successful movies, such as of course "Casablanca" and "The Maltese Falcon". But of course the human face of the movie is being provided by James Cagney, who shows the realistic and human side of a tough hoodlum. Cagney is mostly known for his tough roles of course but he could also really play some more 'soft' characters and he actually starred in some musicals and romantic movies as well during his career. The other main part of the movie is being played by Pat O'Brien, a former tough guy from the neighborhood who used to hang out with the Cagney character but has now turned into a priest. Even though O'Brein isn't now days as well known as Cagney or Bogart, he still was a big and well known actor, especially during the '30's and '40's. He actually played in a total of 9 movies together with Cagney and 5 with Bogart, often in front of Bogart as the movie's main lead.

Gangster movies was popular genre in the '30's, with other genre examples such as "Little Caesar", "The Public Enemy" and "Scarface, the Shame of the Nation" being released during the same decade. Especially Warner Bros. was leading with it. Nevertheless, "Angels with Dirty Faces" is still a movie that knows to be different and original within its genre. It's the story that makes this movie original as well as effective and memorable. Especially the ending is great and memorable. The movie constantly kept me waiting for the trademark Michael Curtiz use of shadows during its key moments but there it finally was at the ending. Lots of things come together at the end and it makes the movie as a whole an even better and more powerful one. Even more so than it already was before that point.

Besides its writing, the movie also received Oscar nominations for its directing, by Michael Curtiz and James Cagney for his role of Rocky Sullivan. It was Cagney's first ever Oscar nomination and he actually won his only Oscar 4 years later for his role in "Yankee Doodle Dandy", which also got directed by Michael Curtiz.

"Angels with Dirty Faces" is more dramatic, more involving and therefor perhaps also more memorable than the usual '30's gangster movie.


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About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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