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Michael Curtiz
James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Humphrey Bogart
Writing Credits:
John Wexley, Warren Duff

A priest tries to stop a gangster from corrupting a group of street kids.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 97 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 12/7/2021

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Dana Polan
• “Whaddya Hear? Whaddya Say?” Featurette
• “Warner Night at the Movies” Features
• 1939 Radio Broadcast
• Trailer


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Angels With Dirty Faces [Blu-Ray] (1938)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 9, 2021)

From the era of classic gangster films, 1938’s Angels with Dirty Faces brings an all-star affair. In addition to director Michael Curtiz, Faces features famous actors such as James Cagney, Pat O’Brien and Humphrey Bogart.

Though friends as kids, Rocky Sullivan (Cagney) and Jerry Connolly (O’Brien) now follow very different paths. While Connolly became a Catholic priest, Sullivan fell into a life of crime.

After he gets released from prison, Rocky returns to the streets of his youth, an area where Jerry works to keep local kids on the straight and narrow. Jerry finds himself at odds with his childhood friend, as the priest attempts to ensure his young charges stay out of Rocky’s seductive grasp.

Not that I ever dug intensely into the gangster movies from this one’s period, but I found myself surprised I never saw Faces. Though I certainly knew the title and thought maybe I had viewed it, a scan of this site’s archives reveals no review, so clearly I didn’t check out the flick until the arrival of this 2021 Blu-ray.

Now that I’ve watched the movie, I can say I think it works – sort of. Faces comes with some strengths but it also falters more often than I’d like.

In terms of positives, the main one comes from Cagney, as he offers a dazzling performance. Of course, Cagney played many characters of this sort, but he nonetheless brings just the right mix of menace, charisma and charm to the role.

Honestly, Cagney carries Faces. When he appears onscreen, the flick works, but when he doesn’t, it struggles.

One main drawback comes from the flick’s emphasis on the “Dead End Kids”, the crew that play the youngsters Father Connolly wants to save. When they appear, Faces tends to devolve into little more than Three Stooges-style slapstick.

The film’s producers wanted to use Faces as a way to advance the Kids’ collective careers, and they don’t fit the story. As noted, they exist more as cartoon comedy characters than real personalities, so they became an active distraction.

The narrative also struggles, mainly because Faces lacks much plot and it doesn’t paint a real battle of wills between Rocky and Jerry. We spend a lot more time with the gangster, and Father Connolly seems so dishwater dull that we never invest in his crusade.

O’Brien’s performance becomes a negative factor. For Jerry’s efforts to succeed, we need a leader at least semi-charismatic to combat the gangster’s appeal, but O’Brien plays the part in such a flat way that it never becomes a contest.

Father Connolly’s quest also seems perplexing because the Dead End Kids seem pretty darned incorrigible already when Rocky meets them. He doesn’t turn them into hoodlums – he just continues their progress. Wouldn’t this story make sense with kids who nibble at the edges of juvenile delinquency, not those already firmly involved in those endeavors?

Throw in a strange twist at the end and Faces becomes a problematic film. Cagney’s strong lead performance keeps it together, but the flaws make it a bit of a mess.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+

Angels With Dirty Faces appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Despite a few anomalies, this was largely a strong presentation.

In general, sharpness satisfied, as the movie usually appeared well-defined. Some softness popped up for the occasional shot but the majority of the flick boasted nice delineation.

Shimmering and jaggies remained absent, and edge haloes also failed to appear. The movie’s grain structure felt natural, and print flaws didn’t mar the proceedings.

Blacks appeared deep and dark, and contrast came across well. Shadows generally held up nicely, though a few shots felt a little too bright. While the image didn’t excel, it still gave us a positive transfer.

Similar thoughts greeted the sturdy DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Faces, as it held up nicely over the decades. Speech could seem a bit brittle at times, but lines were intelligible and concise enough.

Music and effects displayed the expected restricted dynamic range, but they showed acceptable clarity and didn’t suffer from significant distortion. The mix lacked pops, clicks, hum, or other defects. This was a more than competent track for a movie from 1938.

Ported over from the movie’s DVD release, the Blu-ray comes with a nice array of extras, and we begin with an audio commentary from film historian Dana Polan. He covers cast and crew, story/characters/themes, genre connections and elements of the era, censorship, and general production notes.

Though that synopsis covers a lot of areas, Polan concentrates far more on interpretation of the film than anything else. This works fine and we get a fairly good commentary, but I wish Polan tossed out more information about the film’s creation.

While we get a decent array of details in that vein, his view of the end product dominates. That leaves this as a good but not great track.

Another audio feature, we find a May 22, 1939 Lux Radio Broadcast Theater version of Faces. It fills 59 minutes, seven seconds and presents James Cagney and Pat O’Brien as they reprise their film roles, with Gloria Dickson in Ann Sheridan’s place as Laury.

As usual, this offers an abbreviated version of the film’s story, though it manages to touch on the more important bases. It seems moderately entertaining at best, but it offers a fun archival piece and I’m glad it appears here.

Called Whaddya Hear? Whaddya Say?, a featurette runs 22 minutes, 16 seconds and brings notes from film professor Dr. Lincoln D. Hurst and Dr. Drew Casper, film historians Alain Silver and Rudy Behlmer, and authors Andrew Sarris, Eric Lax and Mark A. Vieira.

“Say” looks at the status of gangster movies in this one’s era and the shift for the Production Code, story/characters and the project’s path to the screen, cast and crew, and related domains.

Inevitably, some of the commentary’s content reappears here. Nonetheless, “Say” becomes a tight little overview.

Under the banner of Warner Night At the Movies, we get a collection of extras that attempt to reflect the cinematic experience circa 1938. This means we find a newsreel (2:06), a musical short called Out Where the Stars Begin (19:15), a cartoon titled Porky and Daffy (7:32) and a trailer for Boy Meets Girl (2:47).

An intro from film historian Leonard Maltin explains the concept (4:20) and “Play All” lets us run these components in a batch. I always enjoyed the “Warner Night At the Movies” idea and it continues to be a fun addition to the disc.

Thanks to a strong lead performance by James Cagney, Angels With Dirty Faces remains a watchable enterprise. However, it comes with an erratic narrative and too many odd changes in tone to truly succeed. The Blu-ray offers appealing picture and audio along with a nice collection of bonus materials. Cagney makes this worthwhile, but it disappoints in other ways.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.3333 Stars Number of Votes: 3
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