erik lundegaard

Saturday March 02, 2019

Cagney? Yella?

At the bottom of its trivia section for each movie, IMDb includes facts with spoilers. They use this warning:

The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

And sometimes very suspect plot points. This was among the trivia items for “Angels with Dirty Faces”:

For years, viewers have wonder whether or not “Rocky” Sullivan (James Cagney) really turned yellow as he was being strapped into the electric chair. Some have wondered if he was faking it in order to keep his promise to Father Jerry. When asked about the scene years later, Cagney says he chose to play it in such a way so that the audience could make their own decisions as to whether or not he was faking.

I shouldn't slam IMDb alone since others, including film scholars, have said the same. But what idiot watches “Angels with Dirty Faces” and thinks Rocky actually beccomes scared at the sight of the electric chair—that he isn't pretending to turn yellow to help Father Jerry, who wants to make sure the Dead End Kids don't idolize him into death and possibly follow his path (into crime and death). The movie is almost pointless if you think he's actually scared; his sacrifice is the point. He's not only giving up the one thing that matters most to him but the only thing he has left: his honor, his street cred, all of it. That's why Father Jerry looks heavenward with tears in his eyes: He knows the sacrifice his long-time friend has made for him and the kids. Forgive him, Lord, for he knows what he does. 

Good god, people, it's not close to ambiguous.

“Angels”' trivia page also includes this: “The film takes place in 1923 and 1936.” It's actually 1920 and 1938. I‘ve submitted a correction to IMDb. We’ll see if it takes. (Reader: It did!)

Ending of Angels with Dirty Faces

Walking the last mile. The question is “Will he fake it?” not “Is he faking it?”

Posted at 05:58 AM on Saturday March 02, 2019 in category Movies  
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Twitter: @ErikLundegaard