Monday, January 31, 2011

Angels with Dirty Faces. A-

Angels with Dirty Faces served as my introduction to James Cagney, whose contributions to the gangster genre could not be stressed enough. I expected to like the movie because of Cagney, but it ended up being a great little movie on its own. Cagney of course anchors the movie, but this would have been solid with anyone in the Cagney's place because the screenplay is so perceptive. The movie is surprisingly tender, more focused on the characters than its somewhat hackneyed plot. Cagney stands out because of his complexity, and Pat O'Brien (a great friend and collaborator of the movie's main star) supports the film's moral structure as the priest who chooses what's right over loyalty to his friend. The movie is directed by Michael Curtiz, who made made Casablanca just a few years later after mainly directing Errol Flynn swashbucklers throughout the 30s. What makes the movie so triumphant, and also stand apart from gangster movies of its time, is its extended ending that brings out intelligence and pathos one hardly comes to expect from a picture like this. We think the movie is over, and then it suddenly takes a surprising turn as the true nature of Cagney's character is revealed. As a newly introduced Cagney fan, I couldn't have chosen better than this. My only worry is that his other movies, while certainly likely to be good, won't compare to this. One final note is that the movie features a performance from Humphrey Bogart, who works nearly as well in small roles as he does in the lead.

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