Wednesday, September 03, 2008

ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938, USA, Michael Curtiz)

ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938, USA, Michael Curtiz, John Wexley / Warren Duff screenplay)
Let's go and say a prayer for a boy who couldn't run as fast as I could.

Jimmy Cagney and Pat O'Brien return to the slum where they were punks together, one now a gangster (guess which), the other a priest. Father Jerry fights to keep a new generation of dead-end kids (played, in fact, by The Dead End Kids) from growing up like Rocky. When the hoodlum faces the electric chair, his pastor pal begs him to "die yellow" and break his hold on the kids' imaginations. Unmitigated mellerdrammer, ANGELS is a lot of tough-talking fun ("You slap me in a dream, you better wake up and apologize") that anticipates by four years this director's masterpiece of heroic sacrifice, CASABLANCA, but with greater theological resonance – the "dead man walking" climax has unexpected heft, echoing another execution, another shameful criminal's death, another redemption centuries before.


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