Home Alone (1990) showed millions of kids born in the ‘80s their first noir film. When Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) is forgotten and his family hoofs it to Paris, one of his first actions is to construct the biggest, most kid-thrilling bowl of ice cream imaginable, and pair it with a private screening of Angels With Filthy Souls. As kids with no reference point for this type of material, millions watched the scene with the same combination of thrill and regret displayed by Kevin. He knows he shouldn’t be watching a black and white film with snarky language, murder, and a guy named Snakes. (The kid may be acting out, but he's sensible enough to wear a bib to protect his nice sweater.) When Johnny pulls that tommy gun from behind his desk and gives Snakes “to the count of ten to get his ugly, yellow, no-good keister off his property,” we already know Snakes is about to get his "guts pumped full of lead." Like Kevin, we hid our eyes but kept watching. This film was just so cool. Was this really the type of hardboiled greatness we got to look forward to watching as adults? Did grownups sit around all night watching shady gangsters in dark smoky offices shoot people?
By now, every Home Alone fan on the planet assumed this was a real film, and has attempted to look up Angels With Filthy Souls only to find it doesn’t exist. The short noir was created just for Home Alone, no longer in length than the bit we watched along with Kevin. We would never get to find out who Acey is, if he was actually in the bath, or whether he really offered Snakes ten percent.
But what exactly was this movie? As a title the McCallisters had on VHS tape, it was clearly something that existed as a real film within the Home Alone universe. Someone in that family liked the picture enough to buy it and make it part of their home video collection. But would it be an actual 1940s film, or something else?
Angels With Filthy Souls shows a man being gunned down in a stream of bullets. (Its sequel, Angels With Even Filthier Souls, seen in Home Alone 2 (1992), imposed the same fate on a female victim). If either was a real 1940s noir, the egregious amount of violence would have been restricted by the Hays Production Code. The code was rigorously adhered to from the mid-1930s through mid-1960s, and stipulated much as to what was acceptable on film.
Early in Home Alone, while the film is busy setting up the way Kevin’s family bullies him, he notes that Uncle Frank (Gerry Bamman) won’t let him watch a movie with the other kids. Kevin notes the film “isn’t even rated R.” Naturally, we’re left to assume that without the restrictive oppression of parents telling him he can’t watch it, Angels With Filthy Souls is the very film in question. With Uncle Frank and his parents out of the picture, Kevin decides to see what he was kept from watching.
What’s telling is that Kevin notes the film “isn’t even rated R.” Since a man gets gunned down, we can thus assume it merited at least a PG-13 rating. But the fact it is rated at all compounds the evidence that this isn’t truly a film from the 1940s. The MPAA rating system Kevin references wasn’t put in place until 1968, following the abolishment of the Hays code when MPAA President Jack Valenti revoked it on the grounds of “the odious smell of censorship.”
Assuming Home Alone follows the conventions of the regular society it depicts, wherein things like the Hays Code and rating systems exist in the same manner as we know them, it’s likely that Angels With Filthy Souls is not an actual 1940s noir film, but a modern film paying homage to an older style. It got away with levels of violence (and in its sequel, sexiness) and language that would not have been possible within the limits of the real genre, culminating in some sort of fun, pulpy, B-grade variant of true film noir with a parody title and cheap Expressionist camerawork.
Regardless, Angels With Filthy Souls worked as a good gag within Home Alone, so much that it merited its own sequel and gave the film a few of its most memorable quotes. It is one element of Home Alone's lasting appeal. Kevin later uses the film, coupled with his imagination and his resourcefulness, to scare off a pizza boy as well as his would-be burglars. It’s just a shame Angels is not a real movie. Then again, there are plenty of superior true noir films out there, albeit with less bullet-riddled bodies hitting the floor.