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Jimmy Cagney filing his nails


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Sometimes when I watch something on TCM, I know instinctively that a new thread topic has just fallen into my lap. And sure enough, that happened yesterday when the Channel aired BOY MEETS GIRL-- a delightful behind-the-scenes spoof of the movie business from Warners in 1938. It is a precursor for the studio's later Technicolor romp about the same subject, IT'S A GREAT FEELING.

 

During one scene, Ralph Bellamy as the frantic studio owner is trying to solve some over-exaggerated problem, while Pat O'Brien and a female assistant stand by wringing their hands. The camera cuts to Cagney positioned off to the side, as cool-calm-and-collected as he possibly can be. He is listening to Bellamy's histrionics, but he is way too absorbed in the Emery board he's holding. For the duration of this scene, he tends to making his finger nails more smooth and presentable. This, incidentally, is not played for laughs-- it is done as a natural behavior of the character. He very easily could have been in the corner of the room practicing his golf swing.

 

There was another film recently, with a much more masculine actor, doing the same thing. I cannot remember who, but this did happen in another film from the same era that screened on TCM recently. Since this was the second occasion in which I had seen it in such a short period of time, it stuck out at me. And since it was Cagney this time, I cannot resist passing up the chance to mention it.

 

Can you imagine if Tom Cruise had a scene in a movie today where he was filing his nails? The tabloids would be working over-time, and so would Cruise's lawyers.

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A girlfriend of one of my buddies once remarked that she LOVED old Cagney movies because, "He's such a cool SMART-AZZ!"

 

 

Indeed, Cagney set the "smart-aleck" bar pretty high, and we grew to expect nothing less from him.

 

 

I viewed his nail filing( yes, I saw that scene) as a culmination of that. Might as well have been practicing his golf swing? Actually, he may as well have been thumbing his nose at Bellamy. Filing his nails was just more subtle.

 

 

Sepiatone

 

 

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I wish I could remember the other leading actor I saw filing his nails. It's going to bother me. LOL

 

After I created this thread, I thought maybe Cagney was trying to imply that his character was homosexual, and this was his way of communicating that given the restraints of the production code. But of course, nail filing does not necessarily equate with homosexuality-- and I have a feeling that many men in those days, gay or straight, probably filed their nails without thinking twice about it.

 

It's an interesting scene. And we would probably not see this with a macho leading man in a newly produced movie today.

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I believe it. If someone came out with a new biography stating that Cagney was bisexual, I would not find it a stretch.

 

I think James Cagney and William Powell both exhibit cutesy-queer mannerisms in a lot of their films-- especially their comedies. But I also think that is what makes them a bit endearing to the ladies in their pictures.

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Gotta say I especially enjoyed the "Marxist"(as in "Brothers", NOT "Karl") frenetic pace of this movie...though I have to admit after the first 20 minutes I came THIS close to turning off the TV yesterday, as I thought Cagney and O'Brien were "tryin' too hard". BUT, I'm glad I didn't, because the longer it played out the better I thought this comedy was.

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Yes, Cagney and O'Brien are definitely trying hard to pull it off. Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan are not as obvious in IT'S A GREAT FEELING.

 

I agree that the energy in this picture is good, and both Ralph Bellamy and Marie Wilson give it that extra something to put it over. Even Dick Foran has some good moments.

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Gotta say I've never noticed this possibility of Cagney being gay or bi-sexual...but then again I must admit my "Gaydar" has never really worked all that well.

 

Ya see, my wife and I once worked with a very nice and attractive lady who's track-record with men wasn't the greatest. Yep, one of those "3-strikes and you're out in the ol' Marriage Game, ya might say.

 

One day while she was down in the dumps about this at work, she and I started talking, and told her that sometimes the right person is right before you and ya just don't realize it. I told her that I noticed she and another co-worker of ours, a really nice guy by the name of Carl, seemed to really like each other and get along very well, and so I asked her why she didn't she think of maybe taking her relationship to the next level with HIM? Judy(that was her name) at first gave me a started look and THEN burst out in a laugh.

 

Yeah, I know you're way ahead of me here, aren't ya! ;)

 

Yep, it turned out that I was the ONLY person in the office of about 30 souls to NOT know that Carl was gay!

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Not to be TMI, but when I was 19 or so and had my first girlfriend where we had a sexual relationship she made it clear that clean and trimmed nails where a requirement to any sexual activity. My wife has the same rule. Now I also play guitar and short nails on the left had are also a requirement (in order to play on the frets cleanly).

 

Cagney was a guitar player. So MAYBE that has something to do with it. i.e. the director saw Cagney trimming his nails (which us guitar players do often), and decided it was a great way to have his character passing the time in that scene.

 

To me, smart men that want to get the girl, keep their nails in great shape.

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Oh you "Metrosexuals", you!

 

Why, we REAL MEN don't give a DAMN about stuff like THAT, ya know! In FACT, these jagged suckers on the end of our fingertips are PERFECT for openin' up all those cans of Budweiser we drink in a day that helps keep these big bellies of ours lookin' the way they do, and the way REAL MEN should look!!!

 

LOL

 

;)

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I appreciate your story and Dargo's story, but I think you are stretching it a bit. He is not trimming his nails, he is filing them. I doubt the director suggested this. It seems like a Cagney mannerism all his own. Though, because I have seen it with another leading man in another studio film, I think this may have been a common thing, regardless of whether these men played musical instruments or not.

 

I mentioned Tom Cruise earlier. While Cruise would probably not do a nail filing scene in a movie, I wouldn't be surprised if he has manicures and pedicures. I think a lot of male movie stars have them-- and guys that are not in the movies and happen to be straight, or at least straight-identified, have them.

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(...oh geeez, THIS one is MUCH too easy!!!)

 

>I mentioned Tom Cruise earlier. While Cruise would probably not do a nail filing scene in a movie, I wouldn't be surprised if he has manicures and pedicures.

 

Yeah, come to THINK of it TB, I'm pretty sure I heard somewhere that there's a resident manicurist on call 24 hour a day on the 4800-block of west Sunset Blvd out your way!

 

(...and of course where a certain..umm.."religion" has its..umm..center)

 

LOL

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If filing his nails is a Cagney mannerism 'all his own' as you say Tom, than I'm still incline to believe that this mannerism is related to him being a guitar player. We trim, cut AND file our nails all the time.

 

In fact many guitar players keep a nail kit in their guitar case, right next to the tuner, strings, and picks. I do and so do most of my guitar playing friends. We often file our nails before a jam.

 

In other words, I find it hard to believe Cagney just picked up this mannerism (assuming that is the case as you say) unrelated to his guitar playing.

 

 

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I think he was doing it to spoof these guys who run Hollywood, not because of guitar playing. If we had seen him play guitar in the movie, then that would make sense. But his character has no musical talent to our knowledge.

 

So while men were out digging ditches in 1938, Jimmy Cagney's character is living it up in a studio office filing his nails. Whether he was implying that the character (and whoever it was based on) was effeminate or homosexual-- or whether Jimmy Cagney is partly coming out of the closet in this scene-- is open to interpretation.

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I believe you misunderstood my position here. If as Tom believes what we see in the movie is just a natural Cagney mannerism, THEN I'm saying that this relates to him being a guitar player in real life. i.e. a natural mannerism = a person's actual persona.

 

BUT, if as you believe the scene was added to reflect that Cagney's character had it easy than that scene was added to provide that effect. As for who came up with filing nails (since the director screenwriter could of used another stunt) I have no clue.

 

 

 

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