#95 White Heat

Watched: April 02 2017

Director: Raoul Walsh

Starring: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Margaret Wycherly

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 54min

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After ten years, and 48 entries, James Cagney is back, and we’re thrilled. Cody Jarrett (Cagney) leads a gang of hoodlums with the help of his Ma (Wycherly) with whom he has a relationship worthy of a Freudian study. After several deaths during a train robbery perpetrated by him and his gang, Cody decides to take the rap for another, less violent crime committed at the same time to avoid a life and/or death sentence.

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He seems sadder about leaving his Ma for two years than about leaving his hot wife. See “Freud” above.

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Meanwhile, the man in charge of investigating the train robbery decides to put one of his men, Hank (O’Brien), undercover in Cody’s prison cell to get to the bottom of the case since he knows it was Cody’s doing. Hank’s task is to gain Cody’s trust and get a confession. Or, as it turns out, join him in a prison break and become his right hand man after unfortunate events and treacherous gang members throw Cody’s world off balance.

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“It’s guy love between two guuuuys”

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White Heat is an action-packed noir-thriller-prison break-heist-crime-gangster-film with all the elements we still see in the genre(s). The Cagney Charisma makes you sort of root for him a bit no matter how amoral and unscrupulous his character may be, although in this case it could be partly because the people with which he surrounds himself are pretty much as bad as he is.

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Examples include, but are not limited to, his beautiful but duplicitous wife Verna (Mayo)

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Cagney’s undeniable charm aside, we found ourselves rooting more and more for Hank as the story progressed, and we were really impressed with the often sophisticated investigative and forensic tools employed by the police in this film – they felt very modern to us. We also kind of loved Ma Jarrett although, like her son, she’s a bit of a manipulative sociopath.

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Cody is deliciously insane though, so Ma may have been a stabilizing influence in his life

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It’s a dramatic film with a dramatic score. The storyline is one which would probably have been stretched into an entire season of a TV show nowadays, so with a run time of under two hours, it never gets dull. Very good indeed, and we loved being back in the company of James Cagney.

What we learned: We might all profit from a closer study of classic literature.

Next time: All About Eve (1950)

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#47 The Roaring Twenties

Watched: October 17 2016

Director: Raoul Walsh

Starring: James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Priscilla Lane, Gladys George, Jeffrey Lynn, Frank McHugh

Year: 1939

Runtime: 1h 46min

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It’s World War One and two guys are doing their best to smoke a cigarette in a shell hole during the fighting. A third guy joins them and they gradually strike up a friendship despite being from very different walks of life; Eddie Bartlett (Cagney) is a mechanic, George Hally (Bogart) is the son of a bar owner, and Lloyd Hart (Lynn) is a lawyer.

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Sharing a smoke and a shell hole in WWI = best friends forever!

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Upon returning home after the war, the three go their seperate ways and we follow Bartlett as he goes back to his old friend and his old job only to find that the world has moved on and there’s no work for him. To make matters even worse, Eddie decides to look up his old penpal from the war, Jean (the ridiculously gorgeous Priscilla Lane), and discovers she’s a school kid. To his credit, he walks away.

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“I’ll just look you up in three years, dollface!”

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He moves in with his friend Danny Green (McHugh) and they take turns driving Danny’s taxi to make a living. After Eddie is arrested for unwittingly smuggling rum into a bar, he realises that there’s money in illegal alcohol and he starts producing and delivering his own, with the help of Danny, the fabulous Panama Smith (George) and his old lawyer friend from the war. He makes it big, runs into (the now legal) Jean again and starts to pursue her, with varied success. She tries, but fails, to fall in love with Eddie.

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“I appreciate the job and the pressies, but I think I’m just gonna fuck your friend instead. #friendzone!”

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George Hally comes back into their lives and the business keeps growing. However, Hally’s ruthlessness and tendency towards violence push Lloyd away and drive Eddie to become more violent himself. When prohibition ends, Eddie has lost it all – his business, his girl, his best friends and his sobriety. Panama stands by him, but he becomes a drunk and reverts to taxi driving again.

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While Hally keeps up his violent criminal career with considerable more success.

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Eddie is short tempered, proud and impulsive, but he’s not a really bad guy, more a victim of circumstance and his own ambition. Hally is more the psychopath – the one who delights in violence and excessive force. Panama and Danny are easily the most likable characters, and in many ways the most innocent victims of Eddie and Hally.

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She’s also the most fabulous character. You can’t go wrong with polka dots and feathers!

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We loved the voice-over and the documentary feel of The Roaring Twenties. The plot and the characters are intriguing and the film was strangely educational, like a very engaging history lesson. Our love for James Cagney is still going strong – whether he’s playing a gangster or he’s dancing and singing, he is mesmerizing.

What we learned: don’t drink and drive, kids! Also, we learned a lot of stuff about the USA between 1920 and 1939. Thank you, voice-over dude!

Next time: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

#43 Angels with Dirty Faces

Watched: September 20 2016

Director: Michael Curtiz

Starring: James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart

Year: 1938

Runtime: 1h 37min

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It is laundry day in downtown New York (we think?), and friends Rocky Sullivan and Jerry Connolly are up to no good. After bullying some passing girls, they decide to steal some fountain pens (cause that’s what bad boys did in the ’20s) and Rocky is caught. He goes to juvenile detention where he learns to be an even better criminal and spends the next 13 years in and out of prison.

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In between stints in prison, he stays busy coaching basketball, as one does

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After being released a final time, Rocky (Cagney) goes back to his old neighbourhood and meets up again with childhood cohort Jerry (O’Brien) who is now a priest. Despite their different lifestyles, their old friendship stays strong and the gangster even helps the priest with some of the “dead end kids” who Jerry is trying to save from a life of crime.

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He also corrupts them of course, but only out of necessity

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While Rocky might initially have tried to get back on the right track, it doesn’t take him long to return to a life of crime, partly due to local crime kingpin Frazier (Bogart) who tries to have him killed. He does not take kindly to this and exacts his revenge by kidnapping Frazier and forcing him into a partnership.

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“Whadda ya mean taking the money and leaving would be smarter than getting into business with the man who tried to have me killed?”

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Eventually, Rocky’s escapades threaten not only his relationship with his girl Laury (Sheridan) but also the one with Jerry, who launches his own campaign to overthrow the corrupt officials and the gangsters who secretly run the town. After a shootout with the police, Rocky is arrested again and sentenced to death. Jerry comes to see him before the execution and begs him to sacrifice his ego and pride to save the dead end boys, which leads to one of the most emotionally devastating scenes we’ve ever seen (possibly worse than the Tramp’s New Year’s dinner in The Gold Rush).

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Will he or won’t he do his old friend one last favour? The results might shock you!

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Angels With Dirty Faces is in a way an early condamnation of the American justice system, and the arguments (nor the realities of the system) haven’t changed much over the years. It’s a beautiful, gripping gangster film with excellent performances and a truly heartbreaking ending. Even though we were both in tears in the end, we loved it.

What we learned: Whadda ya hear, whadda ya say?

Next time: Bringing Up Baby (1938)

#29 Footlight Parade

Watched: September 3 2016

Director: Lloyd Bacon & Busby Berkeley (choreography)

Starring: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell

Year: 1933

Runtime: 1h 43min

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We reiterate: we cannot put into words our newfound love of Busby Berkeley, and we cannot believe it took us this long to find out about him. Thank you, Mr Wright!

Chester Kent (Cagney) is a musical director who is quickly becoming obsolete with the rising popularity of talkies. In addition, his wife wants a divorce, but this doesn’t seem to faze him significantly.

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Who needs a wife when you can have all this?

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He changes his business venture into producing musical “prologues” for movies, dealing with creative exhaustion, corrupt business partners, rival spies and romantic complication along the way. When secretary Nan’s (Blondell) old frenemy Vivian decides to crash at her place, Kent is duped by her perceived worldliness into giving her a job and a marriage proposal, much to the chagrin of Nan who is deeply in love with her boss.

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Luckily, Nan is a saucy minx who knows how to divert his attention away from Vivian

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In order to save the business, Kent and his company need to wow cinema mogul Apolinaris with three spectacular shows to play in all his cinemas, but a rival company has infiltrated the chorus and all their ideas are being stolen. It’s pretty much Bring It On (2000) with better costumes and more sensational routines.

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There’s also a production of Cats before it was cool

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In addition to the main story, there’s a sub-plot romance between secretary-cum-leading lady Bea (Keeler) and juvenile lead Scotty (Powell) which is very sweet, but not that important to the overall plot.

In the end, we are treated to three fantastic Berkeley numbers: “Honeymoon Hotel,” with lots of innuendo; “By a Waterfall,” which features some amazing water scenes; and our personal favourite (mainly for the music) “Shanghai Lil,” in which Cagney himself stars.

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We are beginning to suspect that these films were all a flimsy, high-budget excuse to feature scantily clad ladies, though

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Despite some casual racism, “Shanghai Lil” amazing!

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Like 42nd Street, you can watch this for the story and performances (which we personally thought were slightly better in Footlight Parade), the banter and jokes, or just for the truly spectacular dance numbers. Either way, they should both definitely go on your to-do list. We’re off to watch Gold Diggers of 1933, and we can’t wait!

What we learned: As long as there are sidewalks, we have a job.

Next time: Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933, surprisingly enough)

#20 The Public Enemy

Watched: August 21 2016

Director: William A. Wellman

Starring: James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Donald Cook

Year: 1931

Runtime: 1h 23min

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This gangster classic follows the lives of two friends growing up in Chicago and rising through the ranks of the local crime syndicate. Tom Powers (Cagney) and Matt Doyle (Woods) start off with petty theft as kids and gradually move up and onward to bigger things, such as fur stealing, cop killing and fornication.

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“Dames and Dolls are just a perk – we’re really in it for the fashion”

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Like Little Caesar, Tommy moves up in the criminal world, but he is infinitely more likable. Sure, he’s a bastard, but he is a cheeky bastard and one of the sassiest sassies that ever sassed.

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Just look at his little face!

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Tom’s increasingly violent behaviour, together with the freak death of one of his strongest allies and his revenge on an old employer, lead to Tom and Matt moving to the top of a rival gang’s kill list and they go into hiding. After his boss’ girlfriend rapes him (there’s no other way to describe getting someone drunk and having sex with them despite their protests), Tom flees from his refuge unarmed and with a target on his back. The ending is heartbreaking and shocking.

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It then turns into an After School Special

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The Public Enemy has it all. Beer drinking kids, old-timey flirting (the best kind!), love, friendship, loyalty, gun fights, dysfunctional families, gorgeous clothes, Jimmy Cagney, betrayal, murder and mayhem, as well as the aforementioned female-on-male rape. We loved it and are now developing a tiny (or not so tiny) crush on James Cagney.

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The face of a man who has seen some shit. And been raped.

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What we learned: for siblings, we slap each other around way too little. Also, if you kill someone’s best friend, expect repercussions.

Next time: Freaks (1932)