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Bogart Vs. Cagney Vs. Robinson


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mrroberts, no, I'm not a wannabe dentist but The Strawberry Blonde has long been one of my favourite films anyway.

 

Much of the charm and appeal of Cagney as a great star during his '30s films had been that of the man child, that impulsive, at times explosive incorrigible full of energy and refusing to ever grow up. Although he was over 40 when he made this film it would be pretty much the last time that the actor would play that type of role. And it would be one of the most memorable, in my opinion.

 

The Strawberry Blonde is a warm, sentimental comedy-drama, a rose coloured nostalgic look at the Gay '90s as they never were but should have been. Biff Grimes, to me, may well have James Cagney's most lovable characterization.

 

This remake of Paramount's One Sunday Afternoon is superior to the original in virtually every aspect. And one of the key reasons for that was to have Raoul Walsh as its director. Walsh had grown up in the New York City of the late 19th Century and getting this material gave him the opportunity to have a nostalgic glimpse back upon his childhood years, at least as he might have wished they had been, I suspect.

 

Walsh was always ready to explore characterizations in his films, and this is particularly true of this production. First, of course, there's Cagney, ideally cast as the pig headed, not too-bright little tough guy who's always sporting a shiner. There's perhaps a greater warmth to this Cagney performance, however, than had been seen on the screen before.

 

Biff spends most of the film fantasizing about the strawberry blonde, that ultimate vision of perfection from his youth that he failed to marry, only to later realize that she was no bargain, and the "plain" girl he got was, in fact, the real prize. Walsh and Cagney gently explore middle aged melancholy only to have the lead character finally mature and discover, much to his surprise, that he hadn't realized how good he had it.

 

And the cast supporting Cagney is truly a marvel. Olivia de Havilland, as the not-so-plain "plain" girl he marries, brings a warmth, intelligence and sensitivity to her role, making her one of Jimmy's best leading ladies in the process. There is a quite divine chemistry between these two actors, I feel.

 

But de Havilland is entirely different from the Blondells and Sheridans off whom Cagney had memorably bounced on screen before. There is a greater depth in Cagney's scenes with Olivia, particularly that magnificent, poignant sequence set in the park in which they are reunited for the first time in years after Biff's release from prison.

 

As the film's title character, Rita Hayworth is attractive and understandably desirable, and more than a little shallow, just right for this role. She doesn't bring the depth to her performance that Olivia does but, after all, her character proves to have no depth.

 

Jack Carson is terrific as Waldo, the conniving sharpie "friend" of Cagney, always ready to take advantage of him and anyone else in his ambitious climb upward. There's an engaging klutziness about Carson, though, so that you can never really dislike him. Also memorable in the film is big, lovable Alan Hale, as Cagney's unemployed "Pop," a charmer with the ladies about town, and a man who is always complaining about his teeth (which Cagney, as a mail correspondence dentist, will proceed to make even worse).

 

Of course, The Strawberry Blonde benefits from the great costumes and Gay 90s New York street sets. And, periodically playing in the background throughout , is that great nostalgic tune, The Band Played On, which is so instrumental (pardon the use of that word) in capturing the charm and "innocence" of the times.

 

Walsh, by the way, also directed what can be seen, in many ways, as a Gay '90s companion piece to this film the following year when he was at the helm of another Warners treat chockful of humour, Gentleman Jim. This one is set primarily in Frisco, as opposed to NYC, but it is high in atmosphere and antics, following, in fictionalized form, the career of the ambitious pugilist who would fight the mighty John L. Sullivan under Marquis of Queensberry rules.

 

Instead of Cagney, this Walsh romp has Errol Flynn as the cocky lead. The supporting cast includes two of Strawberry Blonde's players, Jack Carson, and Alan Hale, once again playing the lead character's father. Hale, if anything, has even more of a showcase for his Irish charm and comedy technique in Gentleman Jim than he did in the Cagney film.

 

Walsh would direct Cagney in three other films, two of them gangster classics, The Roaring Twenties and White Heat. Seeing, by contrast, this gentle turn that the two of them made together, has me believing that Cagney achieved a series of career peaks with this particular director that would be rivalled only by the actor's work with one other man, Michael Curtiz.

 

barb.jpg

 

It's the barber shop boys checking out the strawberry blonde.

 

sb7.jpg

 

Four wonderful stars all in great form. The scenes between Cagney and de Havilland in this film are often quite sublime.

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TomJH, your review of *The Strawberry Blonde* says just about all there is to this wonderful, very entertaining film. By his own words, this was one of Cagney's very favorite films. He enjoyed spoofing his tough guy image here. His own mother was present on the set as an "unofficial" consultant , she lived during that "90's" time period of course. The great Warners supporting actors cast is well represented here and all have their moments to shine. This was one of Cagney's last Warners films before going independent. I know he was very eager to leave Jack Warner's control but unfortunately he then lost the production assets that the studio had for him. So I look at this film and *Yankee Doodle Dandy* as the very peak of his career. He certainly had many great moments in the future but it was more of an up and down ride for the rest of his career. (And Olivia was a great partner for him , its a shame they didn't work together in a future film.)

 

Edited by: mrroberts on Sep 30, 2013 1:48 PM

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Thanks very much for your comments, mrroberts, as well as your pertinent observations.

 

Yes, just two years before Cagney left Warners to go independent with his brother William as producer, that brother shared associate producer chores with Hal B. Wallis on The Strawberry Blonde. In retrospect, of course, it was a shame that Cagney left the studio when he was at the very prime of his career to make that ambitious effort but it was an artistic siren call within him at the time that he couldn't resist.

 

And, yes, his mother did visit the set of that film. In fact, Cagney later wrote that his mother had been a "strawberry blonde" in her youth in NYC, dating a fellow named Eddie Casey. The film's theme song, The Band Played On, coincidentally had the lyrics, "Casey would waltz with the strawberry blonde . . ." As a result of all this, the actor wrote, the film was renamed The Strawberry Blonde in honour of his mother.

 

Over thirty years after the fact Cagney wrote the following about his Mom on the set of that film:

 

"The day we shot the scene where I waltzed with my strawberry blonde, Rita Hayworth, my mother came. There it all was - 1890, just as she remembered it: waiters with handlebar moustaches and colored vests, and the foaming beer steins. There were even pretzels on the table. She made only one comment, and an authoratative one, too. 'Jim,' she said, 'pretzels didn't come in until later!"

 

i]Blonde,+The)_04.jpg

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First, great summary of one of my favorite movies, The Strawberry Blonde.

 

As for Cagney leaving WB; I find it strange that he would leave after he made two of his most mature movies TSB and YDD. Was Jack Warner planning another gangster picture called The Roaring Thirties? (ok, lame joke!).

 

But really, none of the WB movies Cagney made in 40, 41 and 42 where gangster pictures.

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James, I think that The Roaring Twenties, released in 1939, was really intended by Warners as a farewell to the gangster saga, at least as a big scale production. In the years immediately afterward, outside of a couple of gangster spoofs featuring Eddie G. and Bogie playing an old time gangster living beyond his time in High Sierra, that was pretty well it with the genre for a long while from the studio most known for them.

 

To which Cagney, I suspect, would probably have said, "Thank goodness." Of course, it's suitably ironic that after his financially unsuccessful bid at independent filmmaking, Cagney's comeback at Warners would be in the most vicious gangster role of his career - Cody Jarrett. (The result, though, would be the last great classic film of the actor's career, in my opinion).

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I thought Strawberry Blonde captured the mood of that time frame perfectly. The chemistry between Cagney and Olivia I love. Even in the Irish in Us their scenes together were cute and memorable. I'm a Strawberry Blonde so I love the song and movie title. It is not my favorite Cagney movie but I like it. Alan Hale is also Great with Cagney.

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CAGNEY, RAFT AND FRANKIE

 

As a young boy growing up on the streets of New York, Jimmy Cagney had dreams of one day being a major leagues ball player. Here's a shot of him with old pal George Raft and Lee Tracy at a charity event at Wrigley Field. (Tracy, by the way, was one of the few actors in Hollywood, who could keep up with Cagney as a speed talker, inheriting the role of a sleazy columnist in Blessed Event after Cagney went on one of his temporary walkouts from Warners).

 

 

GeorgeRaftwithLeeTracyandJamesCagneyincharitybaseballgame.jpg

 

Years later, 1974, at the AFI awards with a lifetime achievement recognition of Cagney, Raft is back. Frank Sinatra, a huge Cagney admirer, helped to host that memorable tribute evening for Jim.

 

Cagney loved the peace and solitude of his retirement, however. One time, while Cagney was at his Martha's Vineyard home, Sinatra came to the island. He had rented a huge yacht, everyone was going crazy because Mr. Show Business was there, and Frank kept asking for Cagney.

 

When a friend, who took Cagney on trips on a ketch, asked the retired actor where he wanted to sail, Cagney's response was to the point: "Wherever Frank isn't."

 

 

GeorgeRaftandSinatra2.jpg

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I like all 3 but dont like gangster (war and musical) movies.

 

I think Bogart's movies have a lot more substance and he played different characters than the other 2 (played a PI and also a prospector in Treasures of Siera...)

I know Cagney and Robinson also played different roles (than gangsters) but still I think Bogart has few more interesting non-gangster movies in his personal vault.

Also I wished Cagney had played more non gangster kind of movies cuz I dont like musicals. Robinson played the role of a grand pa in which he did a great job and then played a timid accountant as well as a gangster (in the same movie) then the last movie he played I think was a gambler (w/ Steve McQueen... was it Cincinnati kid)?

 

as much as I like Cagney but my list goes like this;

1- Bogart

2-Robinson

3-Cagney

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matey, thanks for sharing your opinion.

 

This thread has had so many contributions from Cagney fans (and lovers) that, in a way, it's sort of refreshing to hear from someone who ranks him as his least favourite of the three (though I also realize that you do like him).

 

These three actors had quite varied careers, I feel. It's possible to enjoy all three without liking gangster films since most of their films were, in fact, non-gangster, even though those were the roles that provided all three actors with their initial hits.

 

I have always maintained that Bogart appeared in the largest number of outstanding productions of the three actors. However, matey, on behalf of Cagney, I wonder if you have had the chance to see the film just discussed, The Strawberry Blonde. If not, the next time it comes on TCM, I would strongly suggest that you give it a try. (And, no, it's not gangster or war drama or musical).

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I completely disagree with your initial statement, finance.

 

The vast majority of films of all three actors' careers WERE non-gangster. While viewers remember all three for their landmark portrayals of film hoods, we also recall and even cherish them for their versatility in other roles, whether it be as a song-and-dance man or a paranoid gold prospector or a tyrannical sea captain. That, in fact, is even more reason to appreciate their tremendous talents as actors.

 

The thread is called Bogart Vs Cagney Vs Robinson, not Gangster Bogart Vs Gangster Cagney Vs Gangster Robinson.

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I selected those three actors, finance, because they were initially the best known actors to play gangster roles, in combination with the fact that all three also possessed the depth of talent to convincingly play other types of roles, as well.

 

In an overall appraisal of their careers, they were far more than just expert portrayers of hoods, as we all know. If any of them had only played gangsters I doubt that they would have as much of a fan following as they had (their careers would have suffered, for starters, when gangster flicks were no longer in fashion).

 

Actually, looking at the career of Cagney, for example, he only played a gangster six or seven times. I suspect the same is true of Robinson. Bogie did it more often because he was type cast in supporting mug parts for a long while before becoming a star. After High Sierra, however, Bogart was only cast as a gangster again twice in the rest of his career.

 

There's no question that all three actors became stars as gangsters but they remain celebrated today for their overall careers, not just their film career beginnings.

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Finance, Many women found Cagney to be handsome as a young man. Some were leading ladies who claimed Cagney had beautiful red hair and delft blue eyes. I have a question for Tom, Who won the baseball game between the Comedians and Leading Men? And by the way Cagney looks very handsome in that photo, were did you get it?

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Fly, Yes EGR was very intelligent and spoke several languages but Cagney was very intelligent and spoke several languages too. Maybe that's why they got along so well. They were also very talented artists. As actors they were in a league of their own.

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Cody's tantrum in the prison (hearing that Ma's dead) and the final moment atop the oil tank are the 2 most memorable scenes in the movie. But I also think about Cody's giving some air to his buddy, Parker, who's locked in the trunk. There's Cagney, causally munching on an apple, ready to drive off from the hideout, then he remembers Parker is still in the trunk of the other car. He walks over, asks Parker how he's doing? Parker (rather stupidly) says he needs some air, so Cagney "gives him some air". I know this is a deadly serious moment (Cody, the ruthless killer), but it comes off so very funny, to me anyway. :D

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mrroberts, some may well find some black humour in that moment in which Cody drills a hapless victim trapped in the trunk of his car.

 

I think that there are two aspects to that shooting in the trunk scene staged by Raoul Walsh that help to make it so effective. One, of course, is the cold bloodedness of Jarrett as he casually munches on a chicken leg while shooting someone, indicating that it doesn't mean anything more to him than swatting a fly.

 

The other is the fact that after the victim (Paul Guilfoyle) complains about the stuffiness inside the car trunk and Cagney says "I'll give it a little air," there is a moment's delay as he then pulls out his gun. The audience has just enough time to realize what this killer is about to do and there is nothing they can do to stop him.

 

Call it black humour, if you will, but scenes like this in White Heat helped to usher Hollywood into a new era of grimmer reality in its depiction of violence on screen. In this case, the horror of this act is that Jarrett is so damn casual about it.

 

White-Heat-Cody-shooting-trunk.jpg

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