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Publications [#294701] of Thomas J. Ferraro

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Essays/Articles/Chapters in Books

  1. Ferraro, TJ. "Boys to Men (Salvific Masculinity in /Angels with Dirty Faces/)." Catholics in the Movies. Ed. McDannell, C. Oxford University Press, 2008. 59-82.
    (last updated on 2022/05/16)

    Author's Comments:
    _Catholics in the Movies_ is a well-illustrated volume of essays on major American films with explicitly Catholic portrayals and themes; it is intended for wide distribution, including use as a textbook for the growing number of college courses on Catholicism and film across the university spectrum. My contribution, "Boys to Men," was an answer to a call from editor Colleen McDannell (the author of _Material Christianity_), who secured an "all star line-up" (as one of the reader reports phrased it) from across the Americanist disciplines including Tracy Fessenden, Judith Weisenfeld, Paula Kane, and Carlo Rotella. She also procured funding (from the American Academy of Religion and from Notre Dame) and organized a weekend to bring all the contributors together to work-shop the essays: a process I first worried about (would the essays be homogenized to a fault? would the film folks and historians and theologians push each other around?) but that went terrifically. The workshop was an education--each essay held to its own vision in relation to the collective understanding of U.S. history, Catholic culture, and cinematic form that emerged from our conversations. Whether "Boys to Men" turns out to be free-standing or an early contribution to a book on the unofficial Catholicism of the movies (I've already written on _Lorenzo's Oil_ and _Big Night_ with several others up my sleeve) or part of a revisionist account of iconography of the American Irish (beginning with _The Damnation of Theron Ware_) I'm just not sure.

    "Boys to Men" examines the redemptive force of street Catholicism–the salvific masculinity of Irish American violence, courage, and love–as enacted in the interplay between the social-work priest (Pat O’Brien) and his boyhood buddy (James Cagney) turned notorious and charismatic gangster, in Michael Curtiz’s _Angels with Dirty Faces_ (1938). The priest (representing the official face of Catholicism) and the gangster (its unofficial practice) reunite in the old neighborhood to compete for the loyalty and future of a teenage gang, played by the Dead End Kids. As I see it, _Angels with Dirty Faces_ is a gorgeously filmed and strongly acted genre flick that successfully flirts with the censors but remains mainly that–a late Depression-era gangster flick–until its brilliant, shocking ending, which renders the dark pageant of state electrocution only to transfigure it–via the erotics of violent witness and male camaraderie–into a street version of Christian sacrifice.