A Series of Crimes: Angels with Dirty Faces, by Aaron Pinkston

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2 Responses

  1. Dayne Linford says:

    Well done! This is probably my favorite Cagney gangster film, and might even beat out Scarface as my favorite of the old gangster flicks. While not always subtle, it, like you said, manages to have things both ways, portraying the gangster as fully human and as both a boon and a harm to the community that spawned him. It also plays with the old adage that men from these communities go one of three, though recently two in less Catholic communities, ways – either priest, cop, or gangster. I would say one thing you forgot to mention, though – this is an early Michael Curtiz, of Casablanca fame, film. His creativity is all over this film, from the unique way he chooses to frame his shots and the way he makes small moments set pieces (like Cagney’s introduction to the Dead End kids), and, of course, the finale.

    On that finale, I always saw this film as Cagney completing the circle as it were with his gangster flicks, though he actually only did five or so, compared to his other work as a song and dance man or a cop. Regardless, I definitely get a strong Tom Powers vibe from this role, just playing another side of the same persona, especially at the end. That steely smile you mentioned is straight from the big finale of The Public Enemy and suggests that what follows, Rocky going yellow, takes the same sort of balls it took for Tom Powers to take on an entire gang by himself. Even the visual trick of removing the action off screen, only showing the effects of it, is a sly reference to Public Enemy, where we don’t see Powers gunning down his enemies, but instead see him stumbling down the street away from the carnage, fighting to stay upright, to survive against all odds, which he very nearly does. Ultimately, this goes back to the difference you drew earlier – Angels is about community, and Enemies is about the individual. Curtiz cuts away from Rocky’s sacrifice, his effective martyrdom in many ways, to focus on the community that exists even in that little room, and Public Enemy focuses on Powers all alone, versus his own mortality. Angels with Dirty Faces expands the scope of Public Enemy, focusing on the community and the system that created men like Powers and Rocky. Especially for a post-code gangster film (compare to the lackluster Roaring Twenties for another Cagney-Bogart gangster flick that leaves much to be desired), this is an incredibly deep film, articulating social criticisms that wouldn’t be made again until the Godfather.

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