Cast & Crew
Rocky Sullivan and Jerry Connolly, two New York slum kids, are caught trying to steal pens from a railroad car. Jerry escapes but Rocky is captured and sent to reform school. As adults, Rocky turns to a life of crime, while Jerry becomes a priest in their old neighborhood. Eventually, Rocky is arrested and makes a deal with his crooked lawyer, James Frazier, to take the fall for his gang in exchange for $100,000 upon his release. When Rocky returns to the neighborhood after his release from prison, Jerry hopes Rocky will go straight, but Rocky plans to join a criminal organization and collect the $100,000. Meanwhile, Rocky befriends a gang of troubled kids, using their admiration of him to get them involved in the wholesome activities that Jerry runs at the neighborhood gym. Rocky starts dating another childhood friend, Laury Ferguson, who is now a social worker for the parish. Unknown to Rocky, Frazier plans to kill Rocky, rather than give him his due. When Rocky discovers what he has in mind, he kidnaps Frazier and steals the contents of his safe, which include all the information Frazier and his cohort, Mac Keefer, have been using to blackmail powerful men around town. Frazier finally pays Rocky his money, $10,000 of which Rocky tries to give to Jerry for his gym. Fed up with corruption, Jerry begins a campaign to reform the city government. When Rocky finds out that Frazier and Keefer plan to kill Jerry in order to stop his work, he kills them and flees to a nightclub. Before he can get away, the police surround the nightclub, and Rocky is arrested and sentenced to death. Just before Rocky is to die, Jerry visits him on death row. He begs Rocky to die "yellow," so the gang kids won't idolize him. Rocky refuses outright, but as the guards start to strap him down in the electric chair, he begs them not to let him die. Later, when the kids read the paper's report of Rocky's death, Jerry reluctantly confirms his cowardice and asks the kids to join him in a prayer for the boy who "couldn't run as fast as I could."
Jack C. Smith
Joe A. Devlin
Jr. George Offerman
Oscar G. Hendrian
A. W. Sweatt
E. A. Brown
Father J. J. Devlin
Leo F. Forbstein
Jack L. Warner
Best Writing, Screenplay
Angels With Dirty Faces
According to his autobiography, Cagney by Cagney, the actor revealed that "Rocky Sullivan, was in part modeled on a fella I used to see when I was a kid. He was a hophead and a pimp...He worked out of a Hungarian rathskeller on First Avenue between Seventy-seventh and Seventy-eighth Streets...All day he would stand on that corner, hitch up his trousers, twist his neck and move his necktie, lift his shoulders, snap his fingers, then bring his hands together in a soft smack. His invariable greeting was "Whadda ya hear? Whadda ya say?" The capacity for observation is something every actor must have to some degree, so I recalled this fella and his mannerisms, and gave them to Rocky Sullivan just to bring some modicum of difference to this roughneck. I did that gesturing maybe six times in the picture - that was over thirty years ago - and the impressionists are still doing me doing him." This seminal role by Cagney was so impressive at the time and for a long while afterwards, that even now, after so many years of everyone from Sammy Davis Jr. to Johnny Carson "doing Cagney doing Rocky", it's a good bet that some comedian somewhere in the world is still mimicking the jittery gangster and he has no idea where his caricature came from.
The theme of two boyhood friends who grow up to find themselves on opposite sides of the law was a popular one in the 1930's. The idea was used successfully in films such as Manhattan Melodrama (1934) and Dead End (1937) among others, but Angels With Dirty Faces would become the quintessential Warner Brothers melodrama. It would be copied again and again for decades to come. The difference between Angels With Dirty Faces and its gangster film predecessors was its moralistic twist. The rise of gangsterism at that time in the country was attributed to the abject poverty stemming from the Great Depression and the illegal activities of Prohibition. Because of the societal violence and mayhem reflected in such films as Little Caesar(1930) and Scarface (1932), which sometimes glorified criminal behavior, whether inadvertently or not; gangster films began to fall under closer scrutiny from the powers that be.
In 1934 the already nettlesome and censorious Hays Office became all the more intrusive. Under the leadership of Catholic activist Joseph I. Breen, the self-regulatory committee using its code of ethics known as the Production Code, began putting extra pressure on studios to never allow an audience to become sympathetic to "crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin." After reading an advanced copy of the script for Angels With Dirty Faces, Breen wrote several letters to Jack Warner of Warner Brothers complaining about the content of the film. In one of those letters he said that, "It is important to avoid any flavor of making a hero and sympathetic character of a man who is at the same time shown to be a criminal, a murderer and a kidnapper." A detailed summary list of potentially offensive scenes and their attendant page numbers then followed in the letter including comments like "delete all suggestion of a strip poker game" and "There should be no scenes of policemen dying at the hands of Rocky." Warner, wanting to avoid any more outside pressure, then passed on these concerns to the people under him - people like producer Sam Bischoff and director Michael Curtiz. It would be their unenviable task to appease the Hays Office and still make a realistic motion picture. A war was on the horizon and those in authority wanted to lead the viewer away from the supposed rugged individualism of crime kings, and instead, instill the idea that teamwork was greatly needed throughout the nation. It remained a nagging concern throughout the thirties and is still a relevant issue today with the media glorification of The Sopranos and hip-hop "gangstas."
The rise, fall and redemption of Rocky Sullivan followed a familiar pattern set by many previous gangster pictures. Except this time, the crime lord was going to be asked to sacrifice himself for the common good. That would be the compromise given to the Hays Office. But, as far as cutting down the action and violent confrontations contained in Angels With Dirty Faces, little quarter was given. The stunt work, shootouts and fistfights were realistic in every way. In fact, for one scene set in a warehouse with machine-guns blazing everywhere, real bullets were used for ammunition! Cagney had been involved in a scene like this before in the making of The Public Enemy (1931), when he was almost gunned down. So, in making Angels With Dirty Faces he told the director, Michael Curtiz, that he wouldn't stand in front of a window as ordered and let a machine-gun expert fire away at him. It's a good thing that he won his argument because it proved to be a real life-saver; during a take, a hail of live bullets blew through the window pane where Curtiz had wanted Cagney to put his head.
Hollywood's Irishman-in-residence, Pat O'Brien, made many movies with James Cagney in the thirties and forties but his most famous role remains Father Jerry Connolly in Angels with Dirty Faces. No one could ever forget O'Brien and Cagney's long walk down that darkened corridor near the film's end; it's one of the most famous tracking shots in Hollywood cinema. For Humphrey Bogart and Cagney, this would be their third film in under two years. Like their subsequent roles in The Roaring Twenties (1939) and The Oklahoma Kid (1939), they would portray hated rivals - one of the best antagonistic couplings of all time. And as always, Ann Sheridan gives a realistic and immensely likeable performance as the tough but soulful woman who stands as the link between bad guy Cagney and the voice of conscience, saintly Pat O'Brien.
Interestingly enough, The Dead End Kids were used as a moral focal point for Angels With Dirty Faces. Because of the pressure put upon the film industry to create solid role models who could affect the youth of the day, it was important to show that young people, who might otherwise be tempted to go down the wrong road, could be influenced by the good and not the bad. Therefore, it was decided that the same group of tough, street wise youngsters who had appeared in the play Dead End (1935) and in the 1937 movie version, would portray the socially disadvantaged gang of kids in Angels With Dirty Faces. Extremely popular with audiences of the time, the "Kids" made six pictures together in the thirties, and then became the East Side Kids from 1940-1945, making several low budget films together. Later those "Kids" evolved into the Bowery Boys who made some 48 films between 1946 and 1958.
The genuine article, the Dead End Kids were hard nosed guys from the slums, who enjoyed being pranksters, and gave everyone a playful hard time while making Angels With Dirty Faces. Rumor had it that on a previous film with Bogart, the Kids poked fun of Bogie's tough guy movie image and even tore the actor's pants off in an off-the-set incident, which encouraged him to steer clear of the Kids thereafter. Only Cagney, with a similar background to the Kids, would stand up to them. One day the Dead End ringleader, Leo Gorcey, decided to play around and ad-lib a scene with Cagney. In his autobiography, the actor wrote, "I gave Leo Gorcey a stiff arm right above the nose - bang! His head went back, hitting the kid behind him, stunning them both momentarily. Then I said, "Now listen here, we've got some work to do, so let's have none of this goddamned nonsense....Understood?" "Yeah," they said. One of the kids turned to Gorcey and said, "Who the hell you think you got there - Bogart?"
Whether the Hays Office was satisfied with the results of Angels with Dirty Faces now means very little. The fact is that audiences have debated the final climactic scenes of the movie for generations. In those scenes, Pat O'Brien, the former child-thief turned priest, asks his old pal Cagney to perform an act of cowardice so The Dead End Kids would not follow in his footsteps. The ending seems to indicate that Cagney finally sees the light and redeems himself by playing role model to the nth degree. Or does he? Are the actions of Cagney only a feeble attempt at mock-redemption? Are the pronouncements given by Pat O'Brien at the picture's end merely pious bromides? Cagney said he wanted to leave it up to the audience to judge if Rocky Sullivan does what he does at the end to help the Kids or whether he does it simply out of fear and despair. In any case, Cagney's last mile walk is a powerful and iconic moment in the annals of movie lore. And regardless of one's opinion of the final scene, the one clear theory that stands out as a thematic structure throughout the film, is that chance and environmental circumstances play an enormous part in all our lives. As O'Brien says to the Dead End Kids as he leads them to mass at the end of the film, "Let's give a prayer to a boy who couldn't run as fast as I."
Producer: Sam Bischoff
Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Rowland Brown, Warren B. Duff, John Wexley
Art Direction: Robert M. Haas
Cinematography: Sol Polito
Editing: Owen Marks
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: James Cagney (Rocky Sullivan), Pat O'Brien (Rev. Jerry Connolly), Humphrey Bogart (James Frazier), Ann Sheridan (Laury Ferguson), George Bancroft (Mac Keefer).
BW-98m. Closed captioning.
By Joseph D'Onfrio
Angels With Dirty Faces
The Warner Bros. Pictures Gangsters Collection on DVD
All six titles have been fully restored and digitally remastered, and are loaded with special features including historian commentaries and new making-of featurettes. Each disc also contains an exclusive "Warner Night at the Movies" segment. Hosted by Leonard Maltin, each bonus feature recreates moviegoer attractions such as newsreels, comedy shorts, cartoons and trailers from the years each film was released. In addition, The Public Enemy DVD contains several minutes of recovered footage not seen in more than 70 years.
Major Hollywood studios in the '30s and '40s were each known for their distinctive styles (MGM for its musicals; Universal for its horror films, etc.). Warner Bros. was best known for firmly establishing the genre of gangster films, which were also noted for their socially conscious themes as well as their simple visual look (low key lighting and sparse sets). Nowhere were these elements more prominent than in the films of the Warner Bros. Pictures Gangsters Collection.
"We are thrilled to be finally releasing these highly-demanded films in an exciting new DVD collection," said George Feltenstein, WHV's Senior Vice President Classic Catalog. "These are the films that defined our studio in its early years, and which in turn defined the gangster genre. One only has to recall Jimmy Cagney squashing his grapefruit into Mae Clarke's face (The Public Enemy); Cagney yelling "Made it, Ma! Top o' the world!" (White Heat); or Robinson barking, "This is Rico speaking. Rico! R-I-C-O! Rico! Little Caesar, that's who!" to know that these signature Warner Bros. titles represent the genre's best of the best. These films are truly timeless in their appeal, and we insisted on waiting until full restorations were completed before we would bring them to the discerning DVD marketplace. I trust that all the fans will agree it will have been well worth the wait."
Details of The Gangsters Collection Films
The Public Enemy (1931)
The Public Enemy showcases James Cagney's powerful 1931 breakthrough performance as streetwise tough guy Tom Powers, but only because production chief Darryl F. Zanuck made a late casting change. When shooting began, Cagney had a secondary role but Zanuck soon spotted Cagney's screen dominance and gave him the star part. From that moment, an indelible genre classic and an enduring star career were both born. Bristling with '20s style, dialogue and desperation under the masterful directorial eye of William A. Wellman, this is a virtual time capsule of the Prohibition era: taut, gritty and hard-hitting. Contains several restored scenes (deleted from subsequent reissue versions due to enforcement of the Production code) from the original release version of the film, unseen since 1931.
Public Enemy DVD special features include:
- Leonard Maltin Hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1931 with Newsreel, Comedy Short "The Eyes Have It," Cartoon "Smile, Darn Ya, Smile" and 1931 Trailer Gallery
- New Featurette "Beer and Blood: Enemies of the Public"
- Commentary by Film Historian Robert Sklar
- 1954 Re-release Foreword
White Heat (1949)
Playing a psychotic thug, Cody Jarrett, devoted to his hard-boiled "ma," James Cagney gives a performance to match his electrifying work in The Public Enemy. Bracingly directed by Raoul Walsh, this fast-paced thriller tracing Jarrett's violent life in and out of jail is among the most vivid screen performances of Cagney's career, and the excitement it generates will put you on top of the world!
White Heat DVD special features include:
- Leonard Maltin Hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1949 with Newsreel, Comedy Short "So You Think You¿re Not Guilty," Cartoon "Homeless Hare" and 1949 Trailer Gallery
- New Featurette "White Heat: Top of the World"
- Commentary by Film Historian Drew Casper
Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)
Off-screen pals James Cagney and Pat O'Brien team up for the sixth time in this enduring gangster classic nominated for three Academy Awards®. Cagney's Rocky Sullivan is a charismatic tough kid from New York's Hell's Kitchen whose underworld rise makes him a hero to a gang of slum punks. O'Brien is Father Connolly, the boyhood chum-turned-priest who vows to end Rocky's influence. Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca), the film also stars Humphrey Bogart and Ann Sheridan. Cagney's role as Rocky earned him the 1938 New York Film Critics Award for Best Actor along with his first Best Actor Oscar® nomination.
Angels With Dirty Faces DVD special features include:
- Leonard Maltin Hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1938 with Newsreel, Musical Short "Out Where the Stars Begin," Cartoon "Porky and Daffy" and 1938 Trailer Gallery
- New Featurette "Angels with Dirty Faces: Whaddya Hear? Whaddya Say?"
- Commentary by Film Historian Dana Polan
- Audio-Only Bonus: Radio Production with the Film's 2 Stars
Little Caesar (1930)
"R-I-C-O, Little Caesar, that's who!" Edward G. Robinson bellowed into the phone and Hollywood got the message. The 37-year-old Robinson, not gifted with matinee-idol looks, was nonetheless a first-class star. Little Caesar is the tale of pugnacious Caesar Enrico Bandello (Robinson), a hoodlum with a Chicago-sized chip on his shoulder, few attachments, fewer friends and no sense of underworld diplomacy.
Little Caesar DVD special features include:
- Leonard Maltin Hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1930 with Newsreel, Spencer Tracy Short "The Hard Guy," Cartoon "Lady Play Your Mandolin" and 1930/31 Trailer Gallery
- New Featurette "Little Caesar: End of Rico, Beginning of the Antihero"
- Commentary by Film Historian Richard B. Jewell
- 1954 Re-release Foreword
The Petrified Forest (1936)
A rundown diner bakes in the Arizona heat. Inside, fugitive killer Duke Mantee sweats out a manhunt, holding disillusioned writer Alan Squier, young Gabby Maple and a handful of others hostage. The Petrified Forest, Robert E. Sherwood's 1935 Broadway success about survival of the fittest, hit the screen a year later with Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart magnificently recreating their stage roles and Bette Davis ably reteaming with her Of Human Bondage co-star Howard. The film presented Bogart with his first major starring role and helped launch his brilliant movie career.
The Petrified Forest DVD special features include:
- Leonard Maltin Hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1936 with Newsreel, Musical Short "Rhythmitis," Cartoon "The Coo Coo Nut Grove" and 1936 Trailer Gallery
- New Featurette "The Petrified Forest: Menace in the Desert"
- Commentary by Bogart Biographer Eric Lax
- Audio-Only Bonus: Radio Adaptation Starring Bogart, Tyrone Power and Joan Bennett
The Roaring Twenties (1939
The speakeasy era never roared louder than in this gangland chronicle directed by Raoul Walsh (White Heat). Against a backdrop of newsreel-like montages and narration, The Roaring Twenties follows the life of jobless war veteran Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney) who turns bootlegger, dealing in "bottles instead of battles." However, battles await Eddie both inside and out of his growing empire. Outside are territorial feuds and gangland bloodlettings and inside is the treachery of his double-dealing associate George Hally (Humphrey Bogart).
The Roaring Twenties DVD special features include:
- Leonard Maltin Hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1939 with Newsreel, Musical Short "All Girl Revue," Comedy Short "The Great Library Misery," Cartoon "Thugs with Dirty Mugs" and 1939 Trailer Gallery
- New Featurette "The Roaring Twenties: The World Moves on" - Commentary by Film Historian Lincoln Hurst
The Warner Bros. Pictures Gangsters Collection on DVD
Let's go and say a prayer for a boy who couldn't run as fast as I could.- Jerry Connolly
Now I know you're a smart lawyer, Frazier, very smart - but don't get smart with me.- Rocky Sullivan
The Dead End kids terrorized the set during shooting. They threw other actors off with their add-libbing, and once cornered costar Humphrey Bogart and stole his trousers. But they didn't figure on James Cagney's street-bred toughness. The first time Leo Gorcey pulled an add-lib on Cagney, the star stiff-armed the young actor right above the nose. From then on, the gang behaved.
Because of the controversy over gangster films, the film was banned outright in Denmark, China, Poland, Finland, and parts of Canada and Switzerland.
To play Rocky, Cagney drew on his memories of growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen. His main inspiration was a drug-addicted pimp who stood on a street corner all day hitching his trousers, twitching his neck, and repeating, "Whadda ya hear! Whadda ya say!" Those mannerisms came back to haunt Cagney. He later wrote in his autobiography," I did those gestures maybe six times in the picture. That was over thirty years ago - and the impressionists have been doing me doing him ever since."
This film was one of the top moneymakers of 1938. James Cagney was named best actor by the New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review, and received his first Academy Award nomination, losing to Spencer Tracy. Rowland Brown was nominated for an Oscar for Best Orginal Story and director Michael Curtiz also was nominated. According to Daily Variety, the film was censored by the Quebec censors and therefore did not screen in Montreal. Files from the MPPA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library note that the film was also rejected by censors in France, Jamaica, Denmark, Geneva, Poland, Finland, China and Norway. Modern sources note that live ammunition was used in the shootout scenes because the special effects that would simulate bursting bullets had not yet been perfected. Modern sources include Jack Perrin (Death Row guard), Bill Cohee, Lavel Lund, Norman Wallace, Gary Carthew and Bibby Mayer (Church basketball team), Poppy Wilde (Girl at gaming table), Frank Coghlan, Jr., David Durand, George Mori, Al Hill, and Thomas Jackson in the cast. In 1939, Warner Bros. produced a sequel, Angels Wash Their Faces. For more information on "The Dead End Kids" for Crime School and consult Series Index for entries under "The Dead End Kids," "The East Side Kids" and "The Little Tough Guys."
Released in United States 1938
Broadcast in USA over TBS (colorized version) July 7, 1989.
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States 1938