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The Public Enemy

  • Film

Time Out says

Hard to believe that it was the aptly named Woods and not Cagney who was originally slated for the lead role of Tom Powers, the part that rocketed Cagney to stardom and typecast him as a trigger-happy punk. Now, of course, the film seems the archetypal Cagney vehicle as he graduates from petty theft to big-time bootlegging and murder, but it's fairly seminal for other reasons: the acknowledgment that crime is at least partly the product of poor social conditions, the emphasis on booze as the mainspring for the Mob's illegal income, the deployment of events and characteristics from the lives of real-life gangsters (in this case Hymie Weiss) to create myth from fact. Best known for the rampantly misogynist scene in which Cagney plunges a grapefruit into Mae Clarke's nagging face over the breakfast table, the film is badly let down by the performances of Harlow as a classy moll, and Cook and Mercer as Cagney's brother and mother (the latter coming across as a simpering moron). But Cagney's energy and Wellman's gutsy direction carry the day, counteracting the moralistic sentimentality of the script and indelibly etching the star on the memory as a definitive gangster hero.
Written by GA

Release Details

  • Duration:84 mins

Cast and crew

  • Director:William Wellman
  • Screenwriter:Harvey Thew, Kubec Glasman, John Bright
  • Cast:
    • James Cagney
    • Jean Harlow
    • Edward Woods
    • Donald Cook
    • Joan Blondell
    • Mae Clarke
    • Beryl Mercer
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