#95 White Heat

Watched: April 02 2017

Director: Raoul Walsh

Starring: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Margaret Wycherly

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 54min

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After ten years, and 48 entries, James Cagney is back, and we’re thrilled. Cody Jarrett (Cagney) leads a gang of hoodlums with the help of his Ma (Wycherly) with whom he has a relationship worthy of a Freudian study. After several deaths during a train robbery perpetrated by him and his gang, Cody decides to take the rap for another, less violent crime committed at the same time to avoid a life and/or death sentence.

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He seems sadder about leaving his Ma for two years than about leaving his hot wife. See “Freud” above.

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Meanwhile, the man in charge of investigating the train robbery decides to put one of his men, Hank (O’Brien), undercover in Cody’s prison cell to get to the bottom of the case since he knows it was Cody’s doing. Hank’s task is to gain Cody’s trust and get a confession. Or, as it turns out, join him in a prison break and become his right hand man after unfortunate events and treacherous gang members throw Cody’s world off balance.

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“It’s guy love between two guuuuys”

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White Heat is an action-packed noir-thriller-prison break-heist-crime-gangster-film with all the elements we still see in the genre(s). The Cagney Charisma makes you sort of root for him a bit no matter how amoral and unscrupulous his character may be, although in this case it could be partly because the people with which he surrounds himself are pretty much as bad as he is.

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Examples include, but are not limited to, his beautiful but duplicitous wife Verna (Mayo)

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Cagney’s undeniable charm aside, we found ourselves rooting more and more for Hank as the story progressed, and we were really impressed with the often sophisticated investigative and forensic tools employed by the police in this film – they felt very modern to us. We also kind of loved Ma Jarrett although, like her son, she’s a bit of a manipulative sociopath.

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Cody is deliciously insane though, so Ma may have been a stabilizing influence in his life

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It’s a dramatic film with a dramatic score. The storyline is one which would probably have been stretched into an entire season of a TV show nowadays, so with a run time of under two hours, it never gets dull. Very good indeed, and we loved being back in the company of James Cagney.

What we learned: We might all profit from a closer study of classic literature.

Next time: All About Eve (1950)

#94 The Third Man

Watched: March 27 2017

Director: Carol Reed

Starring: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 44min

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Holly Martins (Cotten) arrives in post-war Vienna to start a job provided for him by Harry Lime (Welles) only to find that his friend has died. As Martins starts looking into the accidental death, things don’t add up. Conflicting witness statements and suspicious characters convince the mystery writer that there is something strange going on and he starts to investigate with the help of Harry’s (somewhat illegal) girlfriend, Anna Schmidt (Valli).

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It’s a long and winding road to get at the truth. And it’s almost as if there’s symbolism in the sets and cinematography.

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We cannot really say much more about the plot without spoiling the film. Suffice to say, Holly’s suspicions are not unfounded and his investigation takes him deep into the murky waters of war profiteering in post-war/early cold war era Vienna. There are twists and turns aplenty and it’s an exciting and engaging watch.

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It’s a wet dream for cobblestone aficionados everywhere!

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What stands out the most in The Third Man is the incredible use of shadows which reminded us a bit of the early German expressionist films we watched, just turned up to 11 (as did a lot of the angles). The beautiful architecture of Vienna with the juxtaposition of the gorgeous buildings and the rubble of the collapsed structures was beautiful, although we’re sure Austrians may disagree with that.

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For horror fans, there’s also a creepy balloon guy.

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Wet cobblestones, lots of arches, scary shadows, and a strangely beautiful sewer system make the film very visually appealing. There’s also a decorative lampshade – the very epitome of the Noir trope. The performances are great, with Welles being nicely menacing and slick.

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As we said, cobblestone aficionados need look no further for a fix.

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Neither do fans of Orson Welles’ strange charm

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Seriously though – very attractive sewer! We can see ourselves turning it into some sort of Gothic paradise.

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What we learned: War is the mother of invention. Also, sister the oldest is a little shadow slut. She loves her some good shadows!

Next time: White Heat (1949)

#91 Criss Cross

Watched: March 20 2017

Director: Robert Siodmak

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, Dan Duryea, Stephen McNally

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 28min

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Steve Thompson (Lancaster) has returned to Los Angeles after a year’s absence, and he quickly reconnects with ex-wife Anna (De Carlo) – the main reason he left town a year earlier. While they seem to be ready to start their relationship again, Anna is also pursued by local gangster Slim Dundee (Duryea) and after a series of miscommunications with her ex-husband as well as pride on both their parts, she ends up marrying Dundee.

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Her new marriage leads to a lot of sneaking around dark parking lots with her ex. That’s what you get for marrying money instead of…whatever it is Steve is to her. Passion perhaps?

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When the lovers are caught in Steve’s house, he tries to cover up their affair by suggesting to Anna’s criminal husband that they join forces for a heist. As an armoured truck driver, Steve offers to be an inside man on a pay roll robbery as long as no one gets hurt in the process. What could possibly go wrong in this scenario?

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Alarm bells should have rung when everyone else showed up at the party in variations of this outfit

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Criss Cross explores a lot of the typical Noir tropes, such as the good guy whose fate is sealed through a mix of circumstances, bad decisions and, of course, the love for a Dame. In addition, there’s the usual: flashbacks, heists, double-crossings, chain-smoking, heavy drinking, gorgeous dresses, the protagonist’s voice-over, and a gradually darker and darker story line.

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As pictured here, Criss Cross also features the typical Noir trope The Decorative Lampshade. Classic!

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The Dame here is fairly innocent and nice compared to a few others we’ve encountered so far, although looks can be as deceiving as a Dame. Anna almost seems another victim – of men in her case, who treat her fairly crappily and might be to blame for her Dameyness (totally a word!), though some of the responsibility might lie with her (her alternative may have been to end up like the barfly in the Round Up). Her descent into victimization may be just a side effect of her learning that her new husband is not as easy to manipulate and control as her ex, but it may also be that Steve (and the audience) are given a glimpse into why she is who she is.

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Bruises are an easy way to evoke sympathy in both exes and audiences (which does not mean the sympathy isn’t justified, by the way).

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Likewise, Steve is not as much of an anti-hero as many other Noir characters – apart from his obsession with Anna (and his tendency to fight with her), he seems to be a fairly ordinary man with a normal family and a steady, average job.

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Until he starts planning heists, that is. As far as we know, that’s not completely normal. Well, perhaps planning them is, but going through with them is another story!

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All in all, we thought this was another wonderful and suspenseful Noir from Robert Siodmak, a master of the genre. Great movie – great rhumba music, courtesy of Esy Morales and his Rhumba Band. Good times!

What we learned: When you Double-Cross a Double-Crosser… It’s a Criss-Cross! Also, organizing a heist to cover up an affair may not be the best idea…

Next time: Jour de Fête (1949)

#89 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Watched: March 7 2017

Director: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt

Year: 1948

Runtime: 2h 6min

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Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart) is down on his luck, roaming around Mexico without a penny to his name. After finally being paid by a scam artist he worked for (a beating proved necessary to get the money he was owed), he teams up with Bob Curtin (Holt) and old prospector Howard (Huston) to dig for gold in the Sierra Madre.

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If you came to this film looking for a 1940s Brokeback Mountain you’ll be sorely disappointed. Despite the tension, the clothes stay on at all times.

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They head up into the mountains and within a few minutes of run time (though several days for the characters) they strike it rich. Setting up their operation, Howard warns the newcomers about the effects of gold on a man, but Dobbs shrugs it off, stating that he will never be corrupted. He could not possibly be more wrong.

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This perpetual scowl on his face is not the look of a man indifferent to the prospect of wealth

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The three gold diggers stay in the mountains for the better part of a year, and the tension and distrust between them grow exponentially in that time. When a fourth man shows up intent on joining their operation, they unite for a short while in the face of a common enemy, but their comradery does not last once the threat is gone. With each of them, especially Dobbs, growing concerned with the intentions of the others, they are soon fighting for their lives against both the elements and each other.

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And bandidos. They also fight bandidos.

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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (or, as our DVD cover says, El Tesoro de Sierra Madre – thank you, Amazon Marketplace) is the first Western on the list and we loved it. There are saloon fights, shoot outs, bandidos, treacherous nature and friends, Indians, and Federales, and it’s tense, dark and dirty. There’s a lot of foreshadowing going on, so from the start you can make fairly educated guesses as to what will happen, but that doesn’t take anything away from the viewing experience. It’s a great watch, and we do love it when Humphrey Bogart plays slightly more villainous characters.

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Let’s just think back on the time before it all went wrong, shall we…

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What we learned: Gold will poison a man’s mind and heart.

Next time: Caught (1949)

#37b (or something) The Thin Man

Watched: January 16 2017

Director: W.S. Van Dyke

Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy

Year: 1934

Runtime: 1h 31min

Disclaimer: This film was added at 37th place (chronologically) after we had already reached (the old) no. 71 (now no. 73) and as such we throw it in here. The next post will be #74 but that does not mean we’ve skipped #72 and #73. Confused? Read this disclaimer. We’re sure it’ll explain everything.

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We’re so glad this one made the list! Sister the Oldest has seen this one before and loved it then as she loves it now. It’s a boozy adventure of the best kind, with wonderful characters and banter.

Nick Charles (Powell) is a retired private detective, enjoying a life of leisure, and copious amounts of cocktails, with his charming and charmingly rich wife, Nora (Loy), and their terrier, Asta.

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“These are just my breakfast drinks!”

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An old acquaintance, Dorothy Wynant, approaches the former detective as she suspects her father is in trouble, but Nick refuses to take the case, on account of the retirement and all. However, soon after, Mr Wynant’s secretary is killed and the plot thickens considerably when Dorothy’s father, who’s missing, becomes the chief suspect. Nick, egged on by Nora who thinks all this detective business terribly exciting, takes time between cocktails to look into the matter.

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Clink!

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The Thin Man is one of the funnest, booziest mystery comedies you’ll ever see. There are eccentric characters, dysfunctional families and lots and lots of drinks. The quick banter between Nick and Nora is magical, and their relationship is something to aspire to (in its own way). In addition, Nora has the best fashion sense, and the the dog is adorable. This film should be everyone’s traditional Christmas viewing, along with Gremlins and Die Hard, of course. Enjoy!

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True love!

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What we learned: We need to purchase lots of stripy chiffon. Also, do NOT make this film into a drinking game where you try to keep up with Nick…

Next time: A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

#47 The Roaring Twenties

Watched: October 17 2016

Director: Raoul Walsh

Starring: James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Priscilla Lane, Gladys George, Jeffrey Lynn, Frank McHugh

Year: 1939

Runtime: 1h 46min

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It’s World War One and two guys are doing their best to smoke a cigarette in a shell hole during the fighting. A third guy joins them and they gradually strike up a friendship despite being from very different walks of life; Eddie Bartlett (Cagney) is a mechanic, George Hally (Bogart) is the son of a bar owner, and Lloyd Hart (Lynn) is a lawyer.

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Sharing a smoke and a shell hole in WWI = best friends forever!

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Upon returning home after the war, the three go their seperate ways and we follow Bartlett as he goes back to his old friend and his old job only to find that the world has moved on and there’s no work for him. To make matters even worse, Eddie decides to look up his old penpal from the war, Jean (the ridiculously gorgeous Priscilla Lane), and discovers she’s a school kid. To his credit, he walks away.

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“I’ll just look you up in three years, dollface!”

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He moves in with his friend Danny Green (McHugh) and they take turns driving Danny’s taxi to make a living. After Eddie is arrested for unwittingly smuggling rum into a bar, he realises that there’s money in illegal alcohol and he starts producing and delivering his own, with the help of Danny, the fabulous Panama Smith (George) and his old lawyer friend from the war. He makes it big, runs into (the now legal) Jean again and starts to pursue her, with varied success. She tries, but fails, to fall in love with Eddie.

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“I appreciate the job and the pressies, but I think I’m just gonna fuck your friend instead. #friendzone!”

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George Hally comes back into their lives and the business keeps growing. However, Hally’s ruthlessness and tendency towards violence push Lloyd away and drive Eddie to become more violent himself. When prohibition ends, Eddie has lost it all – his business, his girl, his best friends and his sobriety. Panama stands by him, but he becomes a drunk and reverts to taxi driving again.

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While Hally keeps up his violent criminal career with considerable more success.

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Eddie is short tempered, proud and impulsive, but he’s not a really bad guy, more a victim of circumstance and his own ambition. Hally is more the psychopath – the one who delights in violence and excessive force. Panama and Danny are easily the most likable characters, and in many ways the most innocent victims of Eddie and Hally.

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She’s also the most fabulous character. You can’t go wrong with polka dots and feathers!

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We loved the voice-over and the documentary feel of The Roaring Twenties. The plot and the characters are intriguing and the film was strangely educational, like a very engaging history lesson. Our love for James Cagney is still going strong – whether he’s playing a gangster or he’s dancing and singing, he is mesmerizing.

What we learned: don’t drink and drive, kids! Also, we learned a lot of stuff about the USA between 1920 and 1939. Thank you, voice-over dude!

Next time: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

#46 The Lady Vanishes

Watched: September 17 2016

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Dame May Whitty, Paul Lukas

Year: 1938

Runtime: 1h 36min

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In a remote European town, a train is delayed due to an avalanche. A random assortment of tourists are forced to spend the night in a hotel and interact with each other. We meet a gang of young women, one of whom is on her way home to England to get married; some cricket obsessed Brits, a judge and his mistress, an arrogant musician and an old retired governess.

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The nun comes later.

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After the (undiscovered) murder of a busker in the night, the tourists are sent on their merry way the next day. Iris Henderson (Lockwood), the lady about to be married, shares a compartment with Miss Froy (Whitty), the retired governess, and they spend the first part of the train ride in each other’s company. However, after a nap (brought on by a mild concussion from a mysterious accident at the train station), Iris wakes up to the old lady having vanished. In addition, everyone in her compartment denies her ever having been there, saying she must be a figment of Iris’ imagination (or brain injury). Cue mystery!

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“An old lady? We’ve never seen anything of the sort. And why would we lie? We’re not at all sinister foreign types in a xenophobic Europe!”

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Iris teams up with Gilbert (Redgrave), the annoying musician she had a less than pleasant run-in with the previous night and together they start investigating the missing lady, with the occasional help from fellow passenger Dr. Hartz (Lukas). Naturally, things are more complex than they seem at first, and the plot, as they say, thickens.

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“So, let me get this straight: the old lady vanishes, then she reappears but it’s not the same lady, then there’s a severe Italian lady who lies about it, then a judge and his mistress who also lie, as do a couple of Brits because of a cricket match and then there’s a creepy nun..?” “Yes. And there’s also an escape artist. But he escapes.” “I see… Makes prefect sense!”

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This is a good old-fashioned mystery film with intrigue, espionage and international politics (which was important in 1938 as you can imagine). There’s also romance, humour and a wonderful cast of characters, and there’s an action packed shootout towards the end (always fun!). Hitchcock films are always interesting to watch, both due to the contents as well as beautiful and inventive shots. We love and cherish it!

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Also, the lady is adorable!

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What we learned: There’s always a conspiracy.

Next time: The Roaring Twenties (1939)

#45 The Adventures of Robin Hood

Watched: September 30 2016

Directors: Michael Curtiz, William Keighley

Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone, and Una Freaking O’Connor!

Year: 1938

Runtime: 1h 42min

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Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you: our first feature film in glorious technicolor! And what a film! Swashbuckling heroes, forbidden romance, great fight scenes and men in tights! What more can two ladies ask for on a Friday night?

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Perhaps a cheeky bastard defying authority while carrying a big piece of meat..?

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The evil Prince John (Rains) and his sidekick Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Rathbone) start a reign of terror against the Saxons in the absence of John’s brother, King Richard the Lion Heart, who’s in captivity after fighting in the crusades. However, one Saxon nobleman will not be subdued – Robin of Locksley, a.k.a. Robin Hood (Flynn), the sassy leader of a band of merry men who make it their mission to protect the people and defy the rule of the Norman upper classes.

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“We’ll start sharing our loot with the oppressed once we’ve paid off these matching outfits. We should have considered the price of green dye before deciding on this colour scheme…”

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Robin, Little John, Will Scarlett, Friar Tuck and the other famous and beloved characters from the Robin Hood legends not only rob from the rich and give to the poor, they also assassinate all who threaten, torture and/or kill Saxons. Which John did in abundance.

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His mistake was going full oppressor. You never go full oppressor.

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This was one of the best Friday nights we’ve had in a while (sad, we know..). The colours are really vibrant (particularly after so many weeks of black and white films) and the characters are fun and cheeky – especially Flynn’s Robin. There’s bravery, political activist women (though turned that way by love for a man), the glorious Una O’Connor (imagine our happiness when we spotted her!), wonderful fight sequences (some in shadow), humour, romance, suspense and a great score.

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We must admit to a weakness for men who shoot arrows while on horseback. But only in historical clothing.

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Another interesting detail is that for macho men, the outlaws are very happy to be shown up by others. We think a lot of people can learn something from them about lightening up and not taking themselves so seriously…

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Like these guys.

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What we learned: unlike other Robin Hoods, he can speak with an English accent. (Okay, we’re Norwegian and not particularly good at distinguishing accents in English, and we know that Flynn was Australian so this may be a blatant lie, but dammit! Men in Tights [1993] is NOT on the list, and this may be our only chance to quote the great Cary Elwes in this blog, so we’re bloody well going to go for it!)

Next time: The Lady Vanishes (1938)

#43 Angels with Dirty Faces

Watched: September 20 2016

Director: Michael Curtiz

Starring: James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart

Year: 1938

Runtime: 1h 37min

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It is laundry day in downtown New York (we think?), and friends Rocky Sullivan and Jerry Connolly are up to no good. After bullying some passing girls, they decide to steal some fountain pens (cause that’s what bad boys did in the ’20s) and Rocky is caught. He goes to juvenile detention where he learns to be an even better criminal and spends the next 13 years in and out of prison.

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In between stints in prison, he stays busy coaching basketball, as one does

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After being released a final time, Rocky (Cagney) goes back to his old neighbourhood and meets up again with childhood cohort Jerry (O’Brien) who is now a priest. Despite their different lifestyles, their old friendship stays strong and the gangster even helps the priest with some of the “dead end kids” who Jerry is trying to save from a life of crime.

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He also corrupts them of course, but only out of necessity

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While Rocky might initially have tried to get back on the right track, it doesn’t take him long to return to a life of crime, partly due to local crime kingpin Frazier (Bogart) who tries to have him killed. He does not take kindly to this and exacts his revenge by kidnapping Frazier and forcing him into a partnership.

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“Whadda ya mean taking the money and leaving would be smarter than getting into business with the man who tried to have me killed?”

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Eventually, Rocky’s escapades threaten not only his relationship with his girl Laury (Sheridan) but also the one with Jerry, who launches his own campaign to overthrow the corrupt officials and the gangsters who secretly run the town. After a shootout with the police, Rocky is arrested again and sentenced to death. Jerry comes to see him before the execution and begs him to sacrifice his ego and pride to save the dead end boys, which leads to one of the most emotionally devastating scenes we’ve ever seen (possibly worse than the Tramp’s New Year’s dinner in The Gold Rush).

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Will he or won’t he do his old friend one last favour? The results might shock you!

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Angels With Dirty Faces is in a way an early condamnation of the American justice system, and the arguments (nor the realities of the system) haven’t changed much over the years. It’s a beautiful, gripping gangster film with excellent performances and a truly heartbreaking ending. Even though we were both in tears in the end, we loved it.

What we learned: Whadda ya hear, whadda ya say?

Next time: Bringing Up Baby (1938)