ming movie reviews

in about 100 words or less

The Public Enemy (1931)

US 96m, B&W
Director: William A. Wellman; Cast: James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, Beryl Mercer, Donald Cook, Mae Clarke

publicenemyAlong with Little Caesar, The Public Enemy is one of Hollywood’s earliest “talkie” gangster films, which by later Hays Code standards, were said to be unsuitable for the violence, sex and the glorification of the lives and deeds of America’s notorious most wanted. In addition to laying the foundation for the gangster genre, it also typecast James Cagney as a vicious tough guy, which in no small part was a result of the infamous scene where he angrily shoves a half a grapefruit in his girlfriend’s face. Most memorable, however, is the film’s final scene – Tom’s homecoming, which remains one of the most surprising and unsettling endings of any gangster film ever made (Klaus Ming January 2011).

4 comments on “The Public Enemy (1931)

  1. Dave Becker
    01/25/2011

    James Cagney is one of my favorite actors, and the main reason why is his work in this film (as well as THE FIGHTING 69TH, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES and WHITE HEAT). Nobody was quite as stylish a ‘tough guy’ as Cagney, which I’m sure is at least partly responsible for the backlash the film received when it was first released (after all, it’s a cinematic sin to portray gangsters as interesting people!).

    And after all the times I’ve seen it, I still get a chuckle out of that grapefruit scene!

  2. Klaus
    01/25/2011

    I’d never really paid attention to Cagney’s performances in casual viewing of his films. Now that i’m paying attention with these blog reviews, i really have come to appreciate what a fine actor he really was.

  3. Dave Becker
    01/27/2011

    And a film I forgot to mention was YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, where tough-guy Cagney got to do something he loved: dance!

    Along with being a great actor, Cagney was also an instantly recognizable personality: no matter what role he played, and regardless of how well he played it, there was still plenty of “James Cagney” up on that screen.

  4. Klaus
    01/27/2011

    I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Yankee Doodle Dandy – It’s #152 on the list 🙂 Looking forward to it!

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This entry was posted on 01/24/2011 by in 1001 List, 1930s, All and tagged .
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