May 27, 2014

James Cagney, Angels with Dirty Faces

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Won: New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actor

I'm assuming that James Cagney didn't really stand much of a chance at winning the Oscar, if only because his Rocky Sullivan is the most flawed individual out of 1938's Best Actor lineup and the Academy was a long way's away from being privy to rewarding wicked characters. Cagney's got the perfect mug for bad guy roles, with the structure of his face giving him an unusual look and feel, such that when Cagney grimaces or is even slightly displeased he looks positively sinister. That's what I think is so interesting about him in this film--he's innately threatening yet coolly charming, quite a nice personification of an irresistible type of danger that's alluring but lethal.

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 photo ScreenShot2014-05-22at11750AM.jpgCagney's got a rough charm here that ensures a high watchability. Even when he's not exactly impressing me, Cagney still retains a certain level of intrigue. He's definitely the most interesting person in the film--I didn't care about Pat O'Brien's saintly priest, nor did I didn't really care about any of the Dead End Kids or Humphrey Bogart,'s Cagney that draws the eye throughout the entire film and it's he that makes Angels with Dirty Faces worth watching. His exchanges with the Dead End kids are great--Cagney seems at his most comfortable when you're watching him recline in the adulation of the boys as well as when he's masterfully and effortlessly establishing his alpha masculinity. There's a moment in the film where Rocky, after having been cornered by the cops, cracks a boyishly silly but kind of disturbing smile. He captures the delinquency of the character so delightfully, and he's playful in a menacing way. But is Cagney's overall acting the most captivating portrayal of a corrupt antihero I've ever seen? Hardly. In fact, often times I felt as though he could have shaded Rocky with some more dimension--Cagney's style of acting is pretty straight forward, with lightning-fast dialogue being shot out his mouth (as one expects from films of the era) as he stealthily slips in and out from one scene (and sticky situation) to the next. Sometimes it felt a little static, and sometimes I was waiting for more from him, because up until the end he rarely takes any chances to emote passion or feeling. While this may be appropriate in the sense that he is a hardened gangster and ought not show any sensitivity, the character of Rocky has been through so much and you can't help but wonder about the suppressed emotions that may come from such an unfortunate upbringing as his. He is positively thrilling in his infamous last scene, and he unleashes such a believable sense of tragic pain (whether Rocky actually means it or not), and yet this pivotal moment of acting is only heard through voice-over and you're never able to see if or how he's conveying this remarkable emotion facially. In spite of that scene, you still never really know what Rocky is all about, but I suppose that being unable to read him is also what makes him so appealing at the same time. Rocky's an enigma--in every close up you can see him calculating his next move, and part of the excitement is that he knows what's going to happen and yet you don't. And that always makes for a great viewing experience, no?

1 comment:

  1. hard to comment when I haven't seen it. :) but glad u liked it.