The Big House (1930)

You Know What They Do To Guys Up At The Big House!

I suspect The Big House helped birth many of the conventions, staples and slang terms which have come to define prison films. Many of the classic elements are here but they manage to feel fresh instead of coming of as worn out clichés.

The big impact this film had for me was that it made me a fan of two of its main stars, Robert Montgomery and Wallace Beery. The Big House made Beery a star, establishing his loveable lug persona and making him one of the biggest stars of the early 30’s and one of the most unconventional stars in Hollywood history. Beery has a contradictory screen persona as seen here as his role of Butch; a thuggish brute one minute but as gentle as a puppy the next. However I feel Robert Montgomery is the one who steals the show, even If he doesn’t have as much screen time as Beery and Chester Morris. Montgomery strikes me as the most interesting character in the film, as a privileged pretty boy convicted of manslaughter while drunk driving; he appears to be barely ready for adulthood, yet alone ready for serving 10 years in prison. Throughout the entire film you can tell he’s completely out of his element with his trembling manner and naive wide eyed stare. Unlike the rest of the prisoners he is not a criminal in the common sense, displaying how it’s a scary possibility for any regular person to end up in prison regards of their background or social standing.

Being an early talkie, The Big House features many long static camera shots, muffled sound and no background music. However I feel these technical limitations are one of the film’s greatest assets as they heighten the claustrophobia of the cells and other confined areas of the prison. If The Big House was made or remade later in the sound era with more advanced cinematography and clearer sound and a music score, it would not be as effective. The sound design itself is impressive, with the sound effects of whistles, prisoners marching or turning their plates in perfect unison in the mess hall showcase the routine nature of prison life and its mundanity.

The film’s screenwriter, Frances Marion interviewed actual prisoners and prison personal when writing The Big House, making the film an as authentic as possible look at the American prison system in 1930. Director George W. Hill apparently threatened to fire anyone caught acting and forbade the use of makeup in the film. The sets don’t look like Hollywood sets and this is not a romanticized look at prison such as movies like Ladies They Talk About. At the beginning of the film the prison’s warden (Lewis Stone), delivers a monologue about the general public wanting criminals locked behind bars but don’t care about their treatment or rehabilitation once in prison. Here the prisoners have nothing to do all day in the overcrowded prison but grow animosity towards the guards and plot on how they are going to make their escape. Shortly after watching The Big House, I heard a discussion on the radio regarding the deteriorating conditions of prisons in the UK in 2014 and a caller phoned in and mirrored the exact points Lewis Stone made in The Big House; 80 years later and nothing has changed.

Advertisements

A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966)

6 Angry Card Players

The opening of A Big Hand for the Little Lady has so much frantic build up, the scoping scenery shots as far as the eye can see with a grand western music score and for what? A game of poker; but rightfully so as this may be the best poker movie I’ll ever see. I don’t know how to play poker nor do I have any interest in cards, but it doesn’t stop me from being absorbed in this fascinating and inspired comedy.

Much humour is derived from Henry Fonda’s performance as a gambling addict who attempts to act naive and innocent in order to mask his addiction; resulting in the man becoming a ticking time bomb and the suspense which derives from watching this guy throwing his livelihood away. At one point in the film however it stops being entirely comic in which I start feeling sorry for how pathetic Fonda’s character has become; the effective quick switched between comedy and drama is superb. Backed by a cast of charismatic gents as they bicker and tell outlandish stories of what they abandoned in order to attend the game of poker and take the rules of poker so seriously, even when a man’s life is one the line. The only issue I would take with the film are the unnecessary remaining 10 minutes which drag along after the film’s plot has been resolved.

I’d love to see this concept of a poker game going out of control expanded upon and taken to new heights. Not a remake but the same concept in a different setting and perhaps a bit zanier, I would like to see. The sub genre of the western comedy intrigues me. Westerns as a whole I find hit and miss but when presented in comedic form I have a much easier time caring about what’s happening on screen.

 

The Barbarian (1933)

Complete and Utter Bonkers

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

 

The Barbarian has to be seen to be believed. That’s if you’re able to believe this unbelievably ridiculous plot. Ramon Navarro’s Jamil is the textbook definition of a creep and why the characters in the movie take as long as they do to realise this is beyond me. Throughout much of the film he treats the Myrna Loy’s Diana like dirt. He kidnaps her, drags her into the desert, has her whipped by another man so he can pretend to save her and on top of that, or at least what’s implied, he rapes her. Throughout The Barbarian I was thinking there’s no way these two are getting together at the end of the film but with only five minutes run time left to go, Diana ditches her nice loving fiancé for the man who earlier in the film kidnapped her and made her life a living hell. Why?! Stockholm syndrome, abused wife syndrome, girls just love a bad boy syndrome?

The final scene of the movie shows the two in a loving embrace on barge under the moonlight, implying that his ending is supposed to be happy. Uh no, this is dark and disturbing. This women is with a man who is the most morally dubious character being presented as the hero of the story I’ve ever seen. Is it supposed to be ironic or just horribly misguided? The Barbarian however is a rare instance of a movie which I feel kind of bad for having enjoyed, like I have to have the TV facing the wall in the corner of a room with the volume lowered, not letting anyone knowing I’m watching such a thing; or at least that was the case until I decided to post a review on the internet.

So what makes this movie enjoyable? For starters, there is the unmitigated joy that comes from watching politically incorrect pre-code movies. I’ve seen some crazy pre-code films but this just takes the cake.  It’s like a train wreck, it’s so shocking but you can’t look away. Moments of The Barbarian are shocking, other times it’s unintentionally funny, yet despite this bizarre mish-mash, the film works. It’s engaging and there’s tension throughout, the sets and locations are superb, feeling like a tourist brochure at its exotic interiors and landscapes and there’s Myrna Loy’s bathtub scene, a moment of astounding risqué beauty and one of the sexiest scenes in all of cinema. Loy actually shows a lot of skin throughout the film in a range of skimpy attire. This is also the only movie I’ve seen to date which shows that the Pyramids of Giza are right beside the city of Cairo and not in the middle of nowhere – Who knew! Watch and observe The Barbarian in all its unbelievable pre-code glory.

The Band Wagon (1953)

Fred Astaire 1953!

The Band Wagon is the film Fred Astaire’s career was culminating to: his best film in my view. Like Ninotchka with Greta Garbo or A Star Is Born with Judy Garland, this was the role he was born to play; one catered to his on screen persona. Fred Astaire is Tony Hunter! An ageing hoofer who no longer is the star he once was. The Band Wagon contains little references to Astaire’s past: from Bill Bojangles Robinson to the opening credits feature an image of a top hat and cane, to the mentioning of a fictional movie “Swinging Down to Panama” perhaps a reference to Swing Time and Flying Down to Rio (although I do wish there could have been a little reference to Ginger Rogers herself in there).

The Band Wagon provides Astaire with some of the best musical numbers of his career. However the film also allows him to showcase other avenues of his talent, such as his outburst scene over his dissatisfaction over rehearsals – a fine example of the acting prowess he possessed. While Ginger Rogers is obviously Astaire’s greatest partner Cyd Charisse is his most accomplished; could there be a more graceful figure?

Was I gullible that when I first watched The Band Wagon that the movie manipulated me into thinking the pretentious and egotistical stage director Jeffrey Cordova’s (Jack Buchanan) idea of a musical inspired by the Faust legend was a good idea? This isn’t the same old backstage musical plot; The Band Wagon is a thinking person’s musical. Likewise Charisse’s Gabrielle Gerard has a mature sub plot of her own involving her trying to deal with her dominating boyfriend and her feeling towards Tony; giving the film that extra mature edge.

Not only is there a great story, there is also great comedy with a cast gels so well together. Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray as a bickering couple and their hysterical fanboy reactions to meting Tony Hunter, to Jack Bunchanan’s over the top histrionics and his terrible ideas for a stage musical. My favourite moment in comedy in The Bandwagon is the scene in which Jeffrey Cordova manipulates Gabrielle’s boyfriend from being dead set against allowing her to being cast in his stage production to then begging him to allow her to be in the show. It’s like a Bugs Bunny-Yosemite Sam type moment but on a much more subtle level and made even more impressive by occurring in an uncut shot. Likewise the sets in The Band Wagon have an astounding level of detail that scenes near the beginning of the film taking place on the street had me wondering where they sets or real world locations.

Up until The Band Wagon it was uncommon for a film musical to have a soundtrack entirely composed for it rather than having songs and compositions taken from other sources; which makes it all the more impressive that the entire soundtrack to The Bandwagon is superb. If I was to choose my three favourite musical numbers of all time, in terms of epic scope they would be The Broadway Melody Ballet from Singin’ In the Rain, The Lullaby of Broadway from Gold Diggers of 1935 and The Girl Hunt Ballet from The Band Wagon in all its 13 minute glory. Here noir meets musical, with Astaire at his most badass. His line delivery could be in an actual crime film itself, plus it inspired the music video for Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal. There’s also the Shine on Your Shoes number, one which I could watch again and again just to look at all those gizmos in the background and the genuine reactions on people’s faces at seeing Fred Astaire dance; while That’s Entertainment has become a semi-official anthem for Hollywood. Oh and there’s the Triplets number; one of the weirdest musical numbers ever filmed and they’re actually dancing on their knees!

The early to mid-1950’s where a phenomenal period for the musical genre. Hollywood produced some of its finest musicals in these years before television brought this era of film musicals to an end. Films like The Band Wagon elevated the genre to new heights. A Fred Astaire musical which has everything and more!

Back to the Future Part III (1990)

Once Upon a Time In Hill Valley

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

While I loved Back to the Future Part II for how frantic and fast paced it is, I love Part III for largely the opposite reason; for being more simple and laid back. You need a dark chapter like Part II before you can have something more romantic and light hearted like Part III. I love the western setting, there’s a certain innocence to it and is classic in every sense of the word. There’s monument valley, cowboys, Indians, a saloon as well as the atypical western music score. It’s also fun to see Marty and Doc in a date much further back in time as well as seeing the images, quotes and motifs from the first film reapplied in the western setting. The film shows us Hill Valley during its early days thus over the course of three films we get the entire history (and near future) of this town, making it a character onto itself even if the western setting does raise the question about Hill Valley’s geographical location.

Part III is the Doc’s movie; it gave his character a whole new dimension as his scientific ethics are challenged by falling in love for the first time. I don’t think many people realise it but Doc Brown is a pretty dark character. He blew his family’s fortune on inventions which don’t work (at least until he invented time travel) and is ostracised from the rest of Hill Valley so it’s about time something finally went right in his life and he finds a love. Plus it’s cute, two geeks falling in love who were previously separated by space and time for that added romantic element.

My only complaint with Part III (really my only complaint with any film in the trilogy) is that the film pulls the liar revelled, one of my most dreaded of movie clichés. We know the Doc and Clara are going to get back together towards the end of the movie, so do really need to have the movie abruptly stop for a period. But I’m more forgiving of it in this instance as their separation does contribute to the suspense during the film’s finale which is one of the highlights of the entire trilogy. The interactions between Marty and Doc on the other hand are just as great as ever, even more so that they have to find a way to get the DeLoran up to 88 miles per hour with the technology available to them in 1885. Although I do have to ask is Doc not going against his principles at the end by creating another time machine, oh well, it’s still a great ending. Back to the Future Part III is my least favourite of the series but I still love it. Unlike other film franchises the trilogy is done and dusted. It’s not polluted with further sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, re-whatevers, and hopefully it will stay that way.

The End.

Back To The Future Part II (1989)

It’s a Wonderful Future

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Back to the Future Part II is one of the most relentless films I’ve ever seen. A one hour and forty minute film yet it feels like only a fraction of that length. As the characters are already introduced to us, the movie immediately gets the ball rolling. I love how frantic and faced paced Part II is; the movie almost never pauses and is one hell of a thrill ride. How many movie sequels return to the events of the first film? I can’t imagine the effort that went into recreating the scenes from the first film from different perspectives, it makes you see the first film in a whole different light. The film’s portrayal of 2015 on the other hand is the future we all wish we could have, unlike most movies which predict a future of doom and gloom. I still want those self tying shoe laces and the pizza which can be cooked with a few seconds – its fun watching all those future gizmos. Although they got some things right; the large, flat, wide screen TV with multiple channels or the market for nostalgia with the Cafe 80’s.

Part II takes The Empire Strikes Back route by being darker than the first film; the alternate 1985 is like an even darker version of It’s a Wonderful Life. Part II is Biff’s movie; while he doesn’t have the most complex personality. What makes him such a great character is all the different incarnations he has from different ages, time lines as well as his relatives. Thomas F. Wilson has by far the juiciest role in the film, playing no less than five variations of the same character and even having the young Biff interact with the old Biff. I find it funny that the universe could get destroyed just because this one guy has to be an asshole. Also I’m not the first person to notice this but it’s dawned on me how much the alternate 1985 Biff looks like Donald Trump. If the first Back to the Future showed the good side of capitalism: this movie shows the bad side capitalism.

Back to the Future Part II is one of the best examples I’ve seen of single actors playing multiple roles and how they seamlessly have them appear side by side and interact with each other. It still makes me wonder how they did those effects. Today of course they would be achieved using CGI but not back then and that’s part of the fun of these effects – on top of being cool to look at – you find yourself asking “how did they do that?” Robert Zemeicks had just directed the technically challenging Who Framed Rodger Rabbit and then directed a film as complex as this followed by directing the third Back to the Future; someone had a busy set of years working. They also got a new actress for the role of Jennifer and even then they manage to make the change in casting appear seamless.

Part II is by far the most and I do mean by far the most complex of the trilogy, these movies seriously screw with your head if you think about them too much. For example, (presuming time travel exists) if you go to the future you can’t actually meet your future self, as you skipped the intervening time period by travelling forward in time, your older self would not exist in that time line; instead you would find your loved ones mourning over the day you disappeared or how about when old Biff returns to the future after giving his younger self the almanac, should he not have returned the future which he changed? I’ll admit the first time I saw it I found the plot a bit confusing; it took me a number of viewings until I finally figured out why the old Biff is in pain when he returns to 2015. I don’t see these inaccuracies as a bad thing if anything they strengthen our love for these films. Part of the fun of the trilogy is discussing the time travel mechanics and trying to find explanations for any possible inaccuracy. Also one other thing I’ve always wondered, why does Marty make no effort to protect the letter from the rain when his life depends on it? The scene in which Doc tries to explain to Marty that they are in an alternative 1985 must have been similar to the interactions between Robert Zemeicks and Bob Gale when they were writing this film.

To Be Concluded…

Back to the Future (1985)

Spaceman From Pluto

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

An aura of ‘cool’ permeates everything about Back to the Future. I could imagine seeing this film when it came out in 1985 (of course I wasn’t alive) and watching Marty McFly riding through Hill Valley on his skateboard while holding onto the back of a truck to The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News and thinking to myself, “omg, this is just the coolest film ever”. To me Marty McFly is the personification of cool, he rides skateboards, has a hot girlfriend, plays guitar. Yet his life is far from perfect; his dad is a dweb, his mum is an alcoholic and his uncle is in prison. This brings him down to a relatable level, plus he hangs out with a crazy old scientist. Why? I don’t want to know. I like the mystery of not knowing how this unconventional friendship came to be. The technical jargon between Marty and Doc is a never ending pleasure to listen and even lines which shouldn’t be memorable are somehow highly quotable (“Wait a minute Doc, are you telling me that it’s 8:25…dam I’m late for school!”). Likewise taking the coolest looking, commercially available car and making that the time machine is yet another stroke of genius. Notice the scene in which we see the DeLoran for the first time; it’s impossible for Doc Brown to get inside the DeLoran while it is inside the truck so he would have had to get into the car and drive it into the truck and just wait there until Marty would show up and then drive it out and exit the car. I guess Doc thought he had made a time machine that looked so badass he really had to give it an impressive introduction to Marty. The whole movie has the best uses of product placements I’ve seen in a film; never before have I been more happy to see advertisements for Pepsi and Texaco. The pacing of Back to the Future is perfect, the film never lets up; the odds keep stacking up against Marty and the suspense towards the end of the film is crazy.

Even though most of the film takes place in the 1950’s, Back To The Future is the film which defines the 1980’s. The ending in which Marty finds his family has been changed for the better and he gets the 4×4 vehicle he wanted; it’s a wish fulfilment fantasy and very much a capitalist, 80’s ideal. It’s an uplifting ending, providing you ignore the fact that Marty now has to adjust to living with a family he has no previous memory off. It makes sense that Marty goes back to the year 1955, the time period of when adolescence had a voice and began an economic force for the first time in history; plus just take a look at the title of what won Best Picture that year. Marty’s mother being attracted to her son is weirdly funny plus his mother being the opposite of her adult herself; makes you question your own parents claims about their day. I’m always struck by the moment when Marty tell his relatives in 1955 he has two TVs and they think he’s joking yet if you told someone in 1985 that households today own upwards of 6-7 TVs, they would have the same reaction.

Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Back To The Future; to me these are the trilogy of trilogies. The three film sagas I can watch again and again, always notice something new on each viewing, discussing every character to no end, coming up with crazy fan theories and trying to find an explanation to any possible plot hole. I’m sure there are still plenty of subtle gags, use of foreshadowing and who knows what lurked within this film which I still haven’t noticed. Is it possible for a film to be 100% perfect, one which has absolutely nothing wrong with it no matter how minuscule? I can’t think of another film (or series) which has a better use of repeating images and motifs. If I could only bring one DVD to a dessert island, it would be my trilogy box set so I could spend my time uncovering every last secret in the trilogy. I love how self contained the movies are; there are so closely connected to each other and the perfect film trilogy to watch in one go (as I have done several times).

But what is it that makes Back to the Future immensely beloved by such a wide audience? I can tell you why I love it but I have a weird and eccentric film taste. Perhaps it’s due to time travel is something we all fantasize about, as well as the idea of seeing your parents when they were young. The themes the film explores such as family, coming of age, the generation gap and the optimistic message of free will, that our future isn’t written; it’s whatever you make it.

To Be Continued…

Avatar (2009)

Pandora’s Box of Vacuosity

I went into Avatar with hopes of it being an intelligent science fiction movie, James Cameron has directed two of my favourite movies of all time, Terminator 2 and Titanic, but I remain convinced all he was interested in this movie was the special effects, and not giving second thought to story or characters despite the film being in production for a decade.

One aspect of Avatar which bothers me which I’ve never heard other reviewers comment upon, is the fact that Sam Worthington’s character of Jake Sully is paralyzed, being confined to a wheelchair at the beginning of the movie. However when he becomes an avatar and is not only is he able to walk in this new form, he’s running and jumping through the forests of Pandora, so why is there no sense of liberation? Why is this character confined to a wheelchair if the movie never takes advantage of this as a definable characteristic? Am I only person who looked beyond the movie’s special effects and actually noticed this guy is in a wheelchair, even in the movie’s trailer we can see he’s in a wheelchair, and I thought to myself, “Wow, a protagonist in an action movie who is in a wheelchair , that’s something you don’t see everyday”, but no, the wheelchair is there for no reason, if he wasn’t paralyzed it would have made no difference to his character, or should I say “character”, since no one in this movie has a personality.

Even more bothersome for me however is Colonel Milies Quaritch (and yes I had to go to Wikipedia to find out his name as the characters in this movie suck), or as I like to call him, Generic Army General Guy. This is one of the absolute worst, most uninspired villains I have ever seen. This villain alone proves that James Cameron spent a decade working on the technology for this movie’s special effects and didn’t give a monkey’s about the story or characters. I was that shocked at how cliché this villain is that I can’t even enjoy him in an ironic sense, instead I just sat there in bemusement at a villain who belongs in a spoof movie, heck even 80’s action movies have better villains.

Of course I’m not going to beat the dead horses’ skeleton regarding the movie’s white guilt plot. I know humanity will always have its flaws and perhaps it just the optimist in me would like to imagine that in the year 2154 we would have learned something by then and won’t be colonizing other inhabited planets because of greed, but if the movie at least made some acknowledgement of the actions in the film being a case of history repeating itself and even act as a cautionary tale, I would have been more forgiving.

I don’t like CGI to begin with, it’s one of biggest complaints about modern filmmaking, but I do acknowledge the technology can be put to good use when put in the right hands. The effects in Avatar are impressive, but to quote George Lucas (I’ll presume he said this before he himself completely lost it), “a special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”

Auntie Mame (1958)

Live! Live! Live!

It’s hard for me not to be complete enamoured by a movie and a character like Auntie Mame. Two and half hours of zany histrionics with a central character who is a fee thinking, non conformist and constantly has a joyous, optimistic outlook on life; oh, and did I mention she is a total screwball. Few other fictional characters seem to led such an exciting life that I as the viewer am actually is jealous off (“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are just starving to death!”). If I ever amass a huge fortune then perhaps I can try to emulate the lifestyle of Mame. Ok even with a huge fortune that probably wouldn’t be possible in this mundane realm that is reality but I can at least try.

Auntie Mame is one of the most liberal movies to come out of the 1950’s. Mame’s carefree, flamboyant, free thinking and non conformist lifestyle clashes with a decade which is thought of as being the most conformist of the 20th century. It should come as no surprise this movie has a huge gay following as the title character is essentially a drag queen. At the beginning of the movie we see Mame throwing a party full of bohemians, intellectuals and champagne socialists (“Karl Marx, is he one of the Marx Brothers?”), essentially the predecessors to the modern day hipster. During the first 50 minutes of Auntie Mame the liberals are the one’s having fun while the stuffy, puritan conservative Mr Babbock is being driven mad by Mame’s antics and instance that her nephew be sent to a be sent to a progressive school over a conservative prep school, a school with ancient Greek principles, has no uniforms and as the movie’s implies, teaches sex education in a very odd manner.

However Auntie Mame isn’t a total demonisation of conservatives. In the middle portion of the movie she does end up getting married to a southern gentleman and an oil tycoon of whom lives lives on a plantation and goes fox hunting, which does show you that love can overcome ideology. Likewise when Mame returns to her apartment after the death of her husband, the next few incarnations of her constantly redesigned apartment as well as her outfits are not as camp, possibly suggesting her husband’s influence on her. Well at least until the second last incarnation of her apartment which is very avant-garde.

With the movie’s references to sex and homosexuality among other things, Auntie Mame falls into the category of “how did they get away with that?”. Yet as liberal as the movie is for its time (and in many respects still is), the liberal of today is the conservative of tomorrow. Some of Mame’s actions wouldn’t rub with the modern left such as her desire to settle down with a man and her motherly instincts.

The Kaleidoscope opening credits set the stage for a film which is a feast for the eyes and ears. They really put effort into these early widescreen era title sequences in one of many attempts for film to compete against television. Likewise Mame’s lavish apartment is a masterpiece of set design as it evolves throughout the movie, with each incarnation being as impressive as the last. The movie doesn’t lose its stage roots which each act ending with the dimming of the lights with the spotlight on Mame before completely going to dark.

I am a huge Rosalind Russell fan and I know it’s a cliché expression but it usage couldn’t be any more adapt here: this is the role she was born to play! How is it possible of a human being to talk at such a voracious rate? I do wonder how long the script for Auntie Mame must have been. There are probably more words in this movie than the Encyclopedia Britannica. Whenever there is a moment free of any dialogue I have little think to myself, “oh yes, silence, I forgot what that feels like”.  When Roz’s motor mouth isn’t running, she’s pulling at my heart strings; there are times when I wish I could just go into the screen and hug her. I can’t stress enough my love for the actress, the performance and the fictional character. Auntie Mame is an encapsulation of pure unmitigated joy. When I’m feeling down, I know what movie I’ll be turning to.

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

Angels With Filthy Souls

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

 

One of the things I love most about Angels with Dirty Faces is that proposes the age old idea of a person’s entire destiny being defined by one single event. The fact that Jerry (Pat O’Brien) could run faster than his childhood friend Rocky (James Cagney) while being chased by the police for a petty crime would determine the paths they would take in life. If only Rocky could climb over that fence, things would have been so much different.

I’m a huge fan of the Warner Bros gangster movies of the 1930’s and Angels with Dirty Faces is probably the most classic of these movies In that it gets referenced and spoofed most in popular culture. These films deal with social issues, many of which are still relevant today. When I hear current news stories about crime and social issues, I often find myself thinking “They dealt with that in an old 30’s crime/gangster film”. Angels with Dirty Faces is no exception. Rocky Sullivan was never truly a criminal but his stay at a reformatory for his petty crime turned him into one. However Pat O’Brien’s role of Father Jerry Connolly presents an incredibly stark contrast with today’s common place media reports of priests molesting boys. I find it fascinating to see a movie in which a member of clergy is presented as someone who is treated with the utmost respect and entirely trustworthy, of course this being an attempt to appease the Legion of Decency.

Even with the religious overtones, the movie still provides one of the most intriguing moral dilemmas ever presented in a movie; Rocky making the ultimate sacrifice. Before his execution Father Connolly asks him to pretend going yellow and show people he was a coward by begging for mercy before being sent to the chair. The only thing Rocky has left is his reputation and he is being asked to throw that away so kids won’t look up to him and his lifestyle. Rocky does just this at the last moment, a complete rejection of the gangster way of life.

While nothing can top the pure electricity that is Cagey in White Heat, Angels With Dirty Faces gets my spot as the next most interesting performance in his career. The Dead End Kids give Cagney an element to his performance few other actors would rarely get the chance to express, likewise his real life friendship with Pat O’Brien is easily apparent on screen with their interactions. Humphrey Bogart also appears in a pre stardom supporting role. Despite only appearing in several scenes he nearly succeeds in upstages Cagney with his enigmatic screen presence. Plus that kid playing a young Cagney at the beginning of the film is very eerily like him.

Socially conscience pictures such as this which came from Warner Bros really give an insight into the lives of common folk of the time. A moment which always stuck out to me in Angels With Dirty Faces is the basketball game because it’s the only classic era film which comes to mind which features a basketball game thus showing an activity from the 1930’s which is still popular today. Likewise the movie also acts as a historical document for the lingo among inner city youths of the time. The performances given by The Dead End Kids feels like an early example of method acting; no surprise when watching this that it was once referred to as Italian street acting.

Michael Curtiz is undoubtedly one of the greatest craftsmen of Hollywood’s golden age (after all, in this same year he directed one of the most perfect things ever created, The Adventures of Robin Hood). The movie immediately flaunts it’s very handsome production values right from the opening shot. The execution finale of Angels with Dirty Faces alone is a masterpiece of cinematography with its prominent use of shadows, bright lighting and titled camera angles. Here Curtiz creates a criminal underworld which is hard not to get sucked into. We might not want to emulate gangsters but we can’t help but be fascinated by them.