Tuesday, June 03, 2003


This was James Cagney's first film, and it's kind of a dry run for his later, more well known roles as a mother-obsessed bad guy in THE PUBLIC ENEMY and WHITE HEAT. Cagney wasn't first-billed, but he is the most compelling presence in the movie. The story takes place in a Coney Island-type amusement park where Cagney's mother (Lucille LaVerne) runs a penny arcade. Cagney helps out a little, but spends most of his time hanging out with shady characters and gambling. When big-time gangster Warren Hymer leaves for a few days, he puts Cagney in charge of his bootlegging business. Cagney skims a little off the top and when Hymer returns, he finds out and comes after him. In a middle of the night confrontation, Cagney shoots him dead, then loses his nerves and confesses, scared and blubbering, to his mother, who will do what she can to help her boy, even it it means framing innocent Grant Withers, a big lug who works odd jobs at the park and is sweet on Cagney's sister (Evalyn Knapp). Joan Blondell plays Cagney's girl--she doesn't have a lot to do with the plot, but like Cagney, she brings the movie to life whenever she's on screen. Withers looks the part, but his character is underwritten and he doesn't have the charisma that Cagney does, so despite getting first billing, Withers is overwhelmed by Cagney and Blondell. One character, played by Noel Madison, is named Buck Rogers! Short and sweet, with Cagney's breakdown the highlight of the movie.

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