Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. USA, 1931. Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Kubec Glasmon, John Bright, screen adaptation by Harvey F. Thew. Cinematography by Devereaux Jennings. Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck. Production Design by Max Parker. Costume Design by Edward Stevenson. Film Editing by Edward M. McDermott. Academy Awards 1930/1931.
Exciting, stylish film by William A. Wellman, and much of whose camerawork and shocking images haven’t aged a single day. The same can’t be said for the dialogue, of course, but even that can’t really prevent the film’s contemporary feel. James Cagney is thrilling in his leading-man debut as a small-time Manhattan hood who has lived a lot of hard knocks as a poor Irish kid in the city. Now grown up, he sees a great opportunity to make a load of dough in the bootlegging business, while his law-abiding brother gets a job working on a streetcar after returning as a veteran from the war. Jean Harlow co-stars as a platinum blonde, rich floozy who becomes Cagney’s girlfriend; her role seems totally pointless except to be the physical embodiment of his immorality. The editing is superb, the acting visceral, and Cagney’s final scene is still one of the most shockingly violent images ever seen on movie screens. This is the kind of film that has been imitated on countless occasions without equal results.