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March 10, 2008 | by  | in Film | [ssba]

Angels With Dirty Faces

In 1938 Hollywood was thriving, James Cagney was the quintessential gangster and the Hays Code (a set of morality guide lines forced on the industry due to pressure from the Christian right) was in full effect. So when Michael Curtiz, Cagney and an up-til-then unknown Humphrey Bogart came together to make a film about an Irish gangster, they had to make something different to the old gangster films Hollywood were churning out in the pre Hays Code days. They had to give it heart, they had to make it virtuous yet still have enough shootouts, but most importantly they had to make it good. They succeeded.

Angels With Dirty Faces is a classic, it’s fast paced, well made, with a great cast but its real highlight is James Cagney. Cagney was a true original, he didn‘t have the height or the looks of Bogart or others of his generation but his quick fire speech, selfassuredness and Chief Wiggum voice made him a stand out. Even during the film’s melodramatics he’s natural, not losing his trademark confidence until just the just the right moment.

Though he seems to be only remembered these days for Casablanca, Angels director Michael Curtiz had an important career before and after it and is one of the most underrated filmmakers of the golden age of Hollywood (1927-1950s).

His visual style was subtle yet expressive and helped capture the emotional nature of his films. Angels is just as strong in the light hearted scenes with the kids playing basketball as it is in its final shadowladen shootout.

Thanks to Curtiz’s direction the film has aged remarkably well, even though the firing of guns from the hip looks a bit weird compared to the gunplay of today, the acting is flawless and the ending is as powerful as it ever was. It’s a film with a strong sense of morality but it’s not over powered by its moral undertones, its enhanced because of them and that’s a very rare feat. Reviewed by Haimona Peretini Gray


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