Sunday, January 02, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Note: In October I saw ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.

Although the movie had a 2006 DVD release in the first volume of the Warner Bros. Gangsters Collection, it has not been easy to see for some years, so the screening was greeted with great enthusiasm. As noted below, the 35mm print we saw had not been out of the vault for seven years.

It was especially wonderful to return home to the news that the movie would soon have a Warner Archive Blu-ray release!

The Blu-ray is now available and looks and sounds terrific. It's a new 4K scan of the original nitrate camera negative. I was extremely impressed with the sharpness and the beautiful look of the black and white picture.

The disc includes extensive extras imported from the original DVD release, including an introduction by Leonard Maltin, a featurette, the short WHERE THE STARS BEGIN (1939), the cartoon PORKY AND DAFFY (1939), a trailer, a commentary track by Dana Polan, and the 1939 Lux Radio Theater production with James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, and Gloria Dickson.

In a nutshell, anyone who's a fan of Cagney and Warner Bros. films of this era will want to pick up this gorgeous Blu-ray.

Since I reviewed the theatrical screening of the movie a mere two months ago, I'm reprinting the review of the film itself below in its entirety rather than starting over from scratch.

Most of Saturday's films at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival were new to me!

Following THE CRUEL TOWER (1956) the next film screened that day was ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938).

ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES has been hard to see for a number of years due to rights issues. Festival programmer and host Alan K. Rode was able to arrange a screening of a 35mm print, which we were told was the first time the print had been out of the vault in seven years.

Rather amazingly, just a couple of days after I returned home from the festival the Warner Archive Collection announced that the movie will be released on Blu-ray this December.

ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES was written by John Wexley and Warren Duff, with uncredited assistance from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. It's one of Hollywood's favorite '30s plots, in which two childhood friends, Rocky and Jerry (Frankie Burke and William Tracy), grow up in different directions.

Rocky, played as an adult by James Cagney, is in and out of jail for most of his life, while Jerry (Pat O'Brien) becomes a priest who works with poor at-risk youths from the old neighborhood.

When Rocky is released from his latest stint in jail, he briefly seems to clean up his act, spending time with Jerry and another childhood friend, Laury (Ann Sheridan, with Marilyn Knowlden as the younger Laury).

However, Rocky is out for vengeance when he realizes lawyer James Frazier (Humphrey Bogart), who was supposed to be setting up a business for the two of them while Rocky was in jail, has made it big but has no intention of cutting Rocky in as promised.

I've heard from a number of people who love this film dearly, but while I found it fairly entertaining, at the same time it was probably the least interesting film for me from a most enjoyable movie weekend.

The lead actors, of course, are all terrific. Cagney tends to get a lot of the credit for his original and compelling portrayal of Rocky, who just can't live a clean life, but I think O'Brien doesn't get quite enough recognition for playing a good guy like Jerry and keeping him believable and interesting.

I also found Bogart highly entertaining as Rocky's double-crossing business partner. Ann Sheridan's role wasn't quite big enough, fading away in the late going, but what's on screen is good.

What put a damper on the film for me, though, was the group of actors collectively known as the Dead End Kids (Billy Halop, Leo Gorcey, Bobby Jordan, Huntz Hall, Gabriel Dell, and Bernard Punsly). Their obnoxious characters are, put plainly, extremely boring; nothing much distinguishes the boys from one another, nor do they have any emotional range. Since they have a huge amount of screen time, it really detracts from the film.

At one point I wondered why Rocky was spending so much time with children, and as quickly as the question occurred to me, so did the answer: He's still a child himself, not really cut out to interact with mature adults responsibly over the long term. He's also egotistical enough to enjoy the boys fawning over him...a situation which leads to a memorable request from Jerry near movie's end.

The movie was directed by Michael Curtiz, whose life was the subject of an excellent biography by Alan Rode. It was fun seeing back-to-back films starring the subjects of his biographies, as he also wrote about Charles McGraw, star of THE CRUEL TOWER.

The film was scored by Max Steiner, who was also celebrated at the previous day's screening of THE BIG SLEEP (1946) with Steiner's biographer Steven C. Smith on hand for an interview.

The black and white photography was by Sol Polito. I enjoyed picking out a couple familiar locations from the Warner Bros. backlot over the course of the film.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection Amazon Store or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Silver Screenings said...

This new release sounds gorgeous.

I was thinking about the beauty of black & white films from the classic era while I was watching Mank the other day. It seems to me modern filmmakers don't capture quite the same magic in black & white as the studios did back in the day.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

It's really beautiful! I agree with you, studio black and white films of this era just had something "extra." Not sure if it's the film stock or what...

Best wishes,

11:12 PM  

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