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Bryan has written 186 reviews for films during 2018.

  • The Doorway to Hell

    The Doorway to Hell

    ★★

    Cagney's the trusty sidekick of Lew Ayers, who's far too clean-cut and friendly to pass as a mafia boss, but he gives it his best shot (apparently there was some debate that casting such a handsome actor would make crime seem too appealing). Ayers takes over the illegal booze racket, rids the city of gang violence, and thinks he can retire, but the mob wants him back before everything falls apart. It's a somewhat naive early gangster film that's severely…

  • The Public Enemy

    The Public Enemy

    ★★★

    Cagney's most famous pre-code film suffers from early sound technology and an episodic story. It certainly has some memorable moments (like the famous grapefruit scene) but it's kind if disappointing in comparison to the more polished "Blonde Crazy". It made Cagney a star, though, and he's definitely charming and ruthless, and gangster crime is depicted with all its brutality. It's the most violent movie of Cagney's pre-code days.

  • Smart Money

    Smart Money

    ★★★

    Edward G. Robinson's a gambler and Cagney is his live-in buddy who gets a handful of notable scenes (with homosexual overtones). Robinson doesn't command the screen the way Cagney does, and there's too much gambling and not enough drama. Robinson's nice guy criminal might be trying too hard to soften up his vicious "Little Caesar" persona into something a little closer to what Robinson really was. Evalyn Knapp makes a good impression as a troubled beauty, and Boris Karloff has an uncredited bit part near the beginning as a gambling pimp.

  • Blonde Crazy

    Blonde Crazy

    ★★★★

    "The age of chivalry is dead. This is the age of chiselry." Every frame of this movie oozes with immorality, whether it's running a con, double crossing "friends", leering at women, or getting slapped in the face; and nobody slaps or gets slapped better than James Cagney. Big-eyed Joan Blondell is the perfect foil for Cagney, and he's cute as a hotel bellhop. This film is arguably the best of Cagney's pre-code days. It's practically begging to be censored.

  • Taxi!

    Taxi!

    ★★

    Cagney's a taxi driver in his least appealing role as a brutish, angry hothead and a manipulative womanizer constantly threatening domestic violence - and he's supposed to be a good guy, or perhaps a warning to women about who not to fall in love with. Soft-eyed Loretta Young deserves better, and it's the women that carry the film. Cagney seems to be relying on his wise guy charm rather than his acting talents, although his crying scene is effective. The film's fame largely boils down to being the one where he speaks Yiddish and calls someone a "dirty rat." George Raft dances in a bit part.

  • The Crowd Roars

    The Crowd Roars

    ★★

    Cagney's a race car driver who develops a conscience after his kid brother gets involved in the sport, and it turns him into a real heel. The drama is stiff and unnatural, and there seems to be scenes missing as characters make sudden transitions. It's only 70 min long so maybe? The race car scenes are very well done and look ridiculously dangerous. There's zero safety for the drivers or the spectators, and an inevitable grisly death has pretty dark…

  • Hard to Handle

    Hard to Handle

    ★★★

    Cagney's not a crook in this one. He's something even worse - an advertising man - always scheming to bilk Joe Schmoe out of his dough. The story goes in fits and starts and seems to focus on finding the right financial moment to marry the girl he's in love with, although it's possible he's more in love with her ever-present mother. The two women dress alike, he has more scenes with the mom, and she's a wiley schemer just…

  • Picture Snatcher

    Picture Snatcher

    ★★★

    Cagney's an ex-con who gives up the mob to be a newspaper photographer, where his knowledge of the underworld comes in handy. It's "Public Enemy" meets "The Front Page", but not as well done as either of those films. It's entertaining though, and Cagney's full of energy. Ironically, Ralph Bellamy (the jilted fiance in "His Girl Friday") plays a hard-nosed editor.

  • The Mayor of Hell

    The Mayor of Hell

    ★★★★

    Cagney's a mob boss who gets a cushy government appointment overseeing a boy's reform school, and decides he actually wants to reform the poor kids, despite the efforts of the punitive warden, played with relish by Dudley Digges. The sensationalist movie manages to wring a lot effective emotional moments out of the kids' plight. A seasoned film veteran at the age of 16, Frankie Darro ("Wild Boys of the Road") gives a terrific performance as "The Mayor." His diminutive stature came in useful later when he played Robbie the Robot in "Forbidden Planet", and he appears in "Public Enemy" as well.

  • Footlight Parade

    Footlight Parade

    ★★★★

    Cagney's a producer of "prologues," which are lavish live musical extravaganzas that take place before movie screenings. It's a quickly dying art form, and it's a strange musical that saves almost all of its numbers for the end. It's mostly a comedy full of racy one-line zingers, snappy comebacks, and scantily clad women. There's even a censor running around telling Cagney which towns will permit which costumes. A midpoint musical bit is surprisingly similar to "Cats", and the ending offers three consecutive Busby Berkley numbers that are gloriously extravagant, with Cagney stepping in to sing and dance for the finale - his first musical.

  • Lady Killer

    Lady Killer

    ★★★★

    Cagney's a con man who gets in too deep with his gang of swindlers and goes to hide out in Los Angeles... where he becomes a movie star! What seems like yet another crime film turns into an amusing spoof of Hollywood that puts Cagney into a lot of silly costumes. The comedic turn was welcome. Cagney gets duped in the exact same way Robinson did in Smart Money, so obviously there's some script recycling happening at Warner Bros. Who can remember two years ago?

  • Jimmy the Gent

    Jimmy the Gent

    ★★★★

    Cagney's a crooked genealogist (that's right, a genealogist) who scams to win unclaimed inheritances, but has trouble claiming Bette Davis' respect. This one's a flat out comedy, which means Cagney talks faster, yells louder, and slaps people around even more. The guy's a tornado. The film packs a ton into 70 minutes, and is loaded with slapstick, witty jabs, and class comedy. I was amused.