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USA 1939
Directed by
Raoul Walsh
106 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Roaring Twenties

James Cagney spent most of the 1930s playing tough guy gangsters after The Public Enemy (1931) made him a star. His performance here as Eddie Bartlett was his last for a while, until he made his return to the genre with White Heat (1949).

Scripted by famous New York crime reporter Mark Hellinger, Walsh’s film uses montages of newsreel and stock footage with newspaper headlines and a Movietone style voice-over (by John Deering) to give the film a convincing feel of authenticity (Paul Kelly who plays mobster Nick Brown had served over two years in San Quentin for beating actor Ray Raymond to death over a woman he would later marry) with the rise and fall of onetime WWI doughboy turned gangster, Eddie, being represented as emblematic of the malaise of the period. As a drama it is less-successful with Cagney’s essentially good guy persona sitting uneasily with his actions as bootlegger or at least his blithe pragmatism concerning them (the side of him personified by idealistic lawyer Lloyd Hart) whilst his love interest, Priscilla Lane, mixes things up even further with a few musical numbers (notably 'It Had To Be You' and 'Melancholy Baby')

In support Humphrey Bogart as Cagney's partner, George Hally, is a thoroughly reprehensible character and the narrative antithesis to Hart. It was a role typical of the second-rung parts Bogey was getting at this time such as the double-crossing lawyer Jim Frazier in Angels With Dirty Faces (made the previous year also with Cagney), although he would break through to the A list and his decade with the 1941 gangster film High Sierra, also directed by Walsh. Gladys George does a solid job of the moll-with-heart-of-gold part of Panama Smith, based on the real-file character Texas Duigan, whilst Frank McHugh plays Bartlett's best friend, Danny Green, providing some crowd-pleasing comic relief in what is a solid if not outstanding example of the genre.




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