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Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Public Enemy (1931)

A young thug (Frank Coghlan Jr.) engages in petty theft and as he grows into a man (James Cagney) and prohibition becomes law, he becomes a full fledged amoral gangster. As directed by William A. Wellman, this is one of the best of the Warners 1930s gangster epics. It's tough and gritty (except for the maudlin hospital scene late in the picture) and the gangsters aren't made attractive. This was Cagney's star making role and you can see why. There's a compelling presence to his unconscionable mobster that makes him attractive without being glamorized. He's not very handsome, he's rather weasel like actually but he has the bravura of the shamelessly bold. This is the movie with the iconic scene of Cagney shoving a grapefruit into poor Mae Clarke's kisser. Cagney is pretty much the whole show, not even the verging on stardom Jean Harlow can steal anything away from him. With Joan Blondell, Edward Woods, Donald Cook and Beryl Mercer as Cagney's over doting mother.

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