GOLD MEDAL FILM
Screenplay by Harvey F. Thew, from Beer and Blood by John Bright and Kubec Glasmon
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Starring James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell
Running Time: 83 minutes
When they were young, Tom Powers (James Cagney) and Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) were best friends and they had a life of crime. At the start, the two of them were just shoplifting for Putty Nose (Murray Kinnell) who fences whatever they steal. After their own startup as simple thieves, they work their way into becoming big time mobsters after they are drawn into a plan to rob a bank which ends up going horribly and a police officer ends up getting killed. They find soon that they are on their own. As the United States enters into WWI, Tom's brother enlists in the army and Tom remains at home in order to take care of their elderly mother. Once prohibition is introduced, this is where Tom starts to make big money as he works for gangsters Paddy Ryan (Robert Emmett O'Connor) and Nails Nathan (Leslie Fenton). But one day, Nathan ends up getting killed in a horse riding accident, and from here rival mobsters attempt to take over the business which ultimately results in gang war.
The American Film Institute recognizes William A. Wellman's The Public Enemy as the eighth best film in the gangster genre, where other masterpieces like The Godfather parts I and II, GoodFellas, and Pulp Fiction are also listed. While I'm one to say that The Public Enemy isn't exactly one of my top ten favourite gangster films of all time (I consider The Godfather to be the best, but Pulp Fiction inside a different class of film), it's still a rather perfect one and simply a must-see for movie lovers of all different sorts. I've loved watching an actor like James Cagney for quite a long time, and right here is one of those many reasons which I can already think of at this moment. The Public Enemy is a film which showcases the great actor's talent as an actor like no other.
One thing about The Public Enemy which has been rather widely discussed would be a particularly famous scene in which Cagney's character of Tom Powers angrily smashes a grapefruit in the face of his girlfriend Kitty, who is played by an uncredited Mae Clarke. From what I heard, Clarke's husband actually had enjoyed this scene so much to a point in which he would buy a ticket to see the movie several times only to see this one scene. What exactly is there to be said about this scene? I find that it is quite a daring scene for the time being, as it would be too much for the time to see violence against women on film. This scene also stirred up so much controversy, but regardless, there's so much to a scene like this that just makes it all the more memorable.
James Cagney is the perfect example of an actor who can already blend himself into the criminal underworld without any trouble getting inside his way. As far as I'm concerned, he can play a large variety of roles without any trouble. I've already come to admire Cagney upon viewing him in Yankee Doodle Dandy, a musical which I consider to be among the greatest films ever made (this particular film is listed inside my own personal Top 250). But before Yankee Doodle Dandy, we could already see Cagney's talents visible on the screen with a film like The Public Enemy. He just simply plays this part so well, it's hard to look away whenever he is on the screen. I found myself enjoying Cagney when I am thinking about him in a performance much like this one. Never have I seen him play anything else like this at all. It's just astonishing from beginning to end.
His character in here, Tom Powers, is ranked by the American Film Institute to be the #42 greatest villain in American film. This is not the only Cagney role to be ranked in this category, as his character from White Heat, Cody Jarrett, has been ranked the #26 greatest villain in American film. There's no doubt that when James Cagney is playing a character like this, he is always rather frightening because of how much energy he manages to place so much energy into all his performances. Even if Powers isn't exactly what I'd consider to be the greatest character that Cagney has ever played, it's easy to say that the way Cagney has performed him on the screen just makes it all the more astounding when we think about it.
This film ended up earning an Academy Award nomination under the Best Story category. When you take into consideration the rather weak competition at the time (an undeserving Cimarron ended up earning the award for Best Picture at the time, whereas this masterpiece failed to earn a nomination in that category), it's already baffling to see that The Public Enemy only received a nomination in this category. While I haven't seen Josef von Sternberg's Morocco yet, all I could ever say is that it truly is rather baffling to see that The Public Enemy gained very little attention from the Academy Awards at the time. A story like this one hasn't ever been told on film the exact same way that it has been told to us by this William A. Wellman film.
William A. Wellman works behind the camera for The Public Enemy, and while I would not exactly consider it to be his best work (I found that his film The Ox-Bow Incident has impressed me much more), I still believe in it to be a rather well-directed masterpiece. The Public Enemy is a gangster film which simply doesn't play the exact same way a whole lot of other gangster films nowadays would be playing out on the screen. While it is far from being the best gangster film of all time (again, there's The Godfather), there is still a lot to be seen in quite a great film like The Public Enemy. It's so difficult to describe what exactly is being portrayed on the screen in a film like this one. A must-see is what a film like this one most certainly is.
There are several great gangster films which can be named nowadays. This is one of those ones. A classic it surely is, it most certainly not be missed by film fans of all different sorts. I've always loved seeing James Cagney when he played "tough guy" characters much like these ones here. And what I got out of him in here did not at all disappoint me the slightest bit. But he said that he ain't so tough when you think about him. Regardless, that's only part of what I enjoyed the most about a film like The Public Enemy. Even if it isn't what I consider to be the greatest gangster film of all time I believe that it is definitely a classic film not to be missed.