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Film / Angels with Dirty Faces

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"All right, fellas... let's go and say a prayer for a boy who couldn't run as fast as I could."

Angels with Dirty Faces is a 1938 Warner Bros. gangster film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, the Dead End Kids and Humphrey Bogart, along with Ann Sheridan and George Bancroft. The film was written by Rowland Brown, John Wexley and Warren Duff with uncredited assistance from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.

The story starts out with two inner-city kids who were caught stealing fountain pens, Rocky Sullivan and Jerry Connolly. Rocky Sullivan was captured by the police and sent into reform school while his friend Jerry Connolly escaped, being able to run faster. Rocky grew up to be a notorious gangster, while Jerry grew up to be a priest. When Rocky returns to live in his old neighborhood after being discharged from prison, Jerry tries to prevent the local kids from idolizing Rocky, who befriends them whilst continuing his criminal ways.


Not to be confused with Angels with Filthy Souls or the dragon-dating Visual Novel Angels With Scaly Wings. And besides also starring The Dead End Kids, is unrelated to the later film The Angels Wash Their Faces.

Contains examples of:

  • Ambiguous Situation: Did Rocky really turn yellow, or was it just an act? Note that mere seconds before his freak-out, Rocky was completely stoic and showed no fear whatsoever. Also, the reverend had a knowing look on his face as he witnessed.
  • Anti-Hero: Rocky.
  • Badass Preacher: Connolly can be one. It's especially shown at the end of the scene in which Connolly fails to convince the Dead End Kids to stop gambling at a pool hall and come play basketball. As he leaves a man snidely remarks "What's the matter, Father? Can't get them to come to heaven with ya?" Connolly turns around and socks him square in the jaw.
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  • Bad Guys Play Pool
  • Bank Robbery
  • Catchphrase: "What do ya know? What do ya say?"
  • Central Theme: Suffering for the good of others.
  • Cool Guns: Rocky's revolver.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!
  • Dirty Coward: What Father Jerry wants Rocky to appear as when he goes to the chair.
    • Humphrey Bogart as the crooked lawyer, Frazier, is a more straight example.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: Rocky picks up a newspaper from a kid selling them this way.
  • Face Death with Dignity: How Rocky wants to go out. Father Jerry has other ideas...
  • Fatal Flaw: Rocky is loyal to a fault.
  • Former Teen Rebel: Father Jerry was a juvenile delinquent before he became a priest.
  • Free-Range Children: The Dead End Kids, who live in the streets and don't even appear to have parents. Granted, it's the same in basically every movie they appear in, including Dead End.
  • Gangsterland
  • Good Shepherd: Connolly.
  • Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook: Rocky Sullivan grows up into a notorious gangster after having been thrown into a reform school as a kid for stealing pens, and ends up going in and out of prison well into adulthood due to being corrupted. His friend, Jerry Connolly, escaped being thrown into the reform school by the police, and grew up to become a priest.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The line "If anyone ever pulled a boner, you did!" Boner at one time meant 'mistake'.
  • Hesitant Sacrifice: A possible subversion.
  • Human Shield: Rocky ends up using Jerry as one. We find out later that the gun Rocky used was empty.
  • Irish Priest
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Rocky Sullivan, he shows it several times.
  • Literal Ass-Kicking: Sullivan gives the Dead End Kids a beating reminiscent of Moe Howard during their basketball game.
  • Little Brother Is Watching: Ending spoiler! Jerry tells Rocky that the boys in Jerry's care look up to Rocky and stand a chance of becoming criminals themselves because they idolize Rocky so. When Rocky is finally taken to the electric chair, instead of acting tough like he bragged about, he screamed, cried, begged for his life and "died yellow". It's ambiguous whether he truly panicked or just acted that way to discourage the kids from thinking he was cool. (Perhaps a bit of column A, a bit of column B?)
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Some hitmen who are after Rocky also want Jerry dead, but they want that death to look like an accident.
  • "Mister Sandman" Sequence: The beginning of the film features the camera lingering on a newspaper with a period-distinguishing headline, before panning out at the beginning of a scene. They do this not once but twice, although it's probably less to establish the period itself and more to show how much time Rocky spends in prison. The first time they do it we see the city streets filled with horses pulling carriages, the second time we see the same street crammed with 30's-era automobiles.
  • She's All Grown Up: Ann Sheridan's character when Rocky first sees her.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: The Dead End Kids, in this film and just about every other film they appeared in. They're just homeless kids who live in the streets without any supervision, causing mischief. They were often used in gangster movies to symbolize the kinds of kids gangsters were before they grew up and became criminals.
  • Sound-Only Death: Rock's execution.
  • Spinning Paper: A must for all classic gangster movies.
  • Stock Footage: A montage features a shot of gangsters bombing a storefront. This shot is actually an alternate angle of the bombing of a store in The Public Enemy.
  • Street Urchin
  • Throw-Away Guns: Near the end, Rocky is out of bullets, so he throws his gun at his pursuers in desperation.
  • Tragic Anti-Hero: Rocky's a decent enough guy whose life changes when he takes the fall first for his friend then to the slimy lawyer Frazier.
  • What You Are in the Dark: No one on Earth except Father Jerry will ever know that Rocky (probably) only pretended to be a coward in the death chair so that the Dead End Kids won't follow his example.


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