Angels With Dirty Faces

Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)
Warner Home Video
Cast: James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, Humphrey Bogart
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, News Reel, Cartoon, Musical Short

In their newly established line of gangster movies on DVD, Warner Home Video has also prepared the James Cagney gangster drama ’Angels with Dirty Faces’ for its DVD debut. The film tells the story of Rocky Sullivan, played by James Cagney, a young hooligan who grows up to become major force in the gangs of New York. His boyhood friend Jerry Connolly (Pat O’Brien) on the other hand took the opposite route in life and became a priest, trying to get the kids off the streets before they turn into criminals as well. When he returns home after years of absence and a number of prison stays, Rocky is setting himself up to get back into the racketeering but Father Connolly does the best he can to try and avoid this.

With a cast consisting of stars like Cagney, O’Brien and Humphrey Bogart and under the direction of legendary Michael Curtiz you expect nothing but a flawless film and the movie certainly delivers. From the first to the last frame it is filled with tension stemming from human interaction, and drama as a result of skewed world views and ideals. Wonderfully acted with incredible dynamics – it is easy to see who Cagney was such a huge star during his time – and masterfully plotted, the film is a genre study that will keep you on the edge despite its considerable age.

Time hasn’t been too good to the movie, unfortunately. The presentation is a bit blurry at times and riddled with scratches and dust marks. Still it is a thoroughly enjoyable presentation despite its shortcomings. The black and white image has good contrast and good sheds for the most part and only occasionally the image will take on an unnaturally harsh look as a result of the print’s deterioration. Black levels are solid, making sure the film always has the noir feel it needs to succeed.

Audio on the release is also a bit limited and the original mono track shows its age as well with a narrow frequency response that creates an artificial sounding, harsh quality. In a sense it adds to the authenticity of the presentation however, and I would not necessarily see this as a major distraction.

A couple of great extras have been added to the release, once again to recreate an entire night at the movies the way they were put together in 1938, complete with an original news reel, a cartoon and a music short film.

Also included is a new featurette called ’Angels With Dirty Faces: Whaddya Hear? Whaddaya Say?’ offering some more insight into the genre and the making of the film itself. It is nicely complemented by a commentary track by film historian Dana Polan.

Another great classic gangster film is finally available on DVD and it is one you should not overlook on your next visit to the video store!