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TomJH

What is "THE" James Cagney Film For You?

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 I was thanked for my honesty and given $15.00 for my admission, and I didn't even have to shell out for a wig and a fake scar.

 

DANG! FIFTEEN BUCKS? You must live in a higher income area than me.

Seriously, five bucks. That's all you get in my neck of the woods.

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DANG! FIFTEEN BUCKS? You must live in a higher income area than me.

 

Yeah, but I can't remember whether or not the check cleared.

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I have to say, I'm surprised you don't care for One Two Three because it's such an outrageous comedy and because it finds humor in situations where some might be offended...Maybe you should check it out again because it just seems so you.

 

 

;)

 

Yeah, I know what you're sayin' here Lorna. The idea of irreverently calling attention to and making fun of entrenched mindsets, in this case corporate versus communistic mindsets, DOES sound like it would be right up my alley, doesn't it. Possibly in the vein of how DUCK SOUP did the same thing with the concept of ultra-nationalism. 

 

However, perhaps it's just that I've felt the Cagney movie doesn't really go far enough on the "wacky side of things" in order to make its point, and that its "frenetics" somehow have always seemed just shy of truly hitting their mark for me. Though, I have to admit the dialogue IS very clever, somehow that clever dialogue doesn't make me laugh all that much, as it seems to me almost all the actors are forcefully spitting their lines out in order to get the laugh.

 

Now that think about it, perhaps it might have been better if Wilder had played it in a lower key, and perhaps more in the vein of his "A Foreign Affair".

 

(...sorry, but that's about the best I can explain this here, I suppose...however, who knows...maybe that NEXT time I watch this movie I'll start gaining a greater appreciation for it)

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images10_zpsd8076ae5.jpg

 

Joan Crawford, Miss Pepsi Cola herself, complained to Wilder during the making of One Two Three about all the Coke references in the film's screenplay. (Whether she was threatening some kind of lawsuit or not, I'm not quite certain).The film's closing gag was an attempt by the director to appease the lady.

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I've always been a fan of One, Two, Three, even if one argues that the film is actually faster than it is funny.

 

This film had Cagney's fastest dialogue exchanges since, at least, Boy Meets Girl, over 20 years before. Even though Cagney acknowledged he had problems memorizing his lines in one scene of the film, what's left on screen is an amazing comedy performance. It's an older, fiesty version of the same inimitable tough guy with which he had started his career. I don't see how Cagney fans could be anything but pleased at how brilliant he could still be when he had the right material.

 

Having said that, I'm glad that Jimmy made his decision to retire then, to go out on top in a comedy made by an acclaimed director very much on a roll at the time.

While EGR did several films parodying his tough guy roles, this may be the only film in which Cagney came close to doing that.

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This film had Cagney's fastest dialogue exchanges since, at least, Boy Meets Girl, over 20 years before.

 

IMHO Boy Meets Girl is a total misfire. It's all speed and no wit, aside from Ralph Bellamy as the studio exec.

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IMHO Boy Meets Girl is a total misfire. It's all speed and no wit, aside from Ralph Bellamy as the studio exec.

What film overall has the fastest dialogue? HIS GIRL FRIDAY?  ONE TWO THREE? BOY MEETS GIRL?

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What film overall has the fastest dialogue? HIS GIRL FRIDAY?  ONE TWO THREE? BOY MEETS GIRL?

I think His Girl Friday wins the race. I can't remember how many pages the script is, but it's something like 200- one page usually equals one minute of screen dialogue and HGF clocks in at the usual ninety minutes. Not only is the dialogue fast-paced, but there is a lot of overlapping dialogue- which is not easy to pull off.

 

(I'm doing all this from memory, maybe later I'll go to wiki to validate.)

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Now that think about it, perhaps it might have been better if Wilder had played it in a lower key, and perhaps more in the vein of his "A Foreign Affair".

 

A Foreign Affair- not my favorite Wilder by a long shot (Jean Arthur gives me the heaves)- nonetheless would make a great double bill with One, Two, Three.

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I feel bad for steering the thread off course, so I'll try to bring it closer to home.

 

A book I reference a lot, but deservedly so since it's one of the biggest influences on my classic film viewing tastes and opinions, is Danny Peary's Alternate Oscars, wherein a hardcore film buff revisits the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Actor and Actress every year from 1927-1991 and gives his own picks for the award.

 

In it, Peary agrees with the Academy's choice of Cagney as Best Actor of 1942 for Yankee Doodle Dandy (a real honor since he probably agrees with the academy's picks about 5% of the time.) He also thinks Cagney deserved the Best Actor Oscar for Angels with Dirty Faces in 1938, and I agree. Cagney is pure dynamism in that film and the central figure of the plot- the same just can't be said for Spencer Tracy in Boy's Town (I like Tracy, but that win has always been a  total head scratcher for me.)

 

Peary also feels Cagney deserved nominations for 1931's The Public Enemy, 1940's City For Conquest (a film I've never seen, but am intrigued by), White Heat (a real crime he didn't get nominated for that one, especially since the nominees that year [1949] contained some reaaally weak entries) and (of course) One, Two, Three in 1961. He disagrees with Cagney's Best Actor nod for Love me or Leave Me, but only because he felt Jimmy deserved the nomination more for Mister Roberts (made the same year- 1955.) I totally agree.

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I feel bad for steering the thread off course, so I'll try to bring it closer to home.

 

A book I reference a lot, but deservedly so since it's one of the biggest influences on my classic film viewing tastes and opinions, is Danny Peary's Alternate Oscars, wherein a hardcore film buff revisits the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Actor and Actress every year from 1927-1991 and gives his own picks for the award.

 

In it, Peary agrees with the Academy's choice of Cagney as Best Actor of 1942 for Yankee Doodle Dandy (a real honor since he probably agrees with the academy's picks about 5% of the time.) He also thinks Cagney deserved the Best Actor Oscar for Angels with Dirty Faces in 1938, and I agree. Cagney is pure dynamism in that film and the central figure of the plot- the same just can't be said for Spencer Tracy in Boy's Town (I like Tracy, but that win has always been a  total head scratcher for me.)

 

Peary also feels Cagney deserved nominations for 1931's The Public Enemy, 1940's City For Conquest (a film I've never seen, but am intrigued by), White Heat (a real crime he didn't get nominated for that one, especially since the nominees that year [1949] contained some reaaally weak entries) and (of course) One, Two, Three in 1961. He disagrees with Cagney's Best Actor nod for Love me or Leave Me, but only because he felt Jimmy deserved the nomination more for Mister Roberts (made the same year- 1955.) I totally agree.

With my own imaginary Oscars, I would have given Cagney the golden statuette twice, for 1938's Angels with Dirty Faces and, still a criminal but such a contrasting one, 1949's White Heat.

 

I've theorized before on these threads as to why Cagney may not have received a nomination as Cody Jarrett. Strictly conjecture, of course. However, White Heat, while successful at the box office, drew the ire of many religious and moral groups for its violence, as well as its anti-social psychopath lead character (unlike the sympathetic society-drove-him-to-it Rocky of Angels fame).  Therefore, Warner Brothers and the movie colony in general didn't wish to have the wrath of moral groups (which, in turn, who knows, could incite political response, as well) raining down upon them by having an Oscar nod go to Cagney in this role, brilliant performance or not.

 

Speaking of Angels with Dirty Faces, did you ever stop to consider the spectacular hyprocisy of that film regarding its message at the end? Remember how Rocky goes to the chair, feigning cowardice, so the Dead End Kids don't worship him and grow up to be criminals just like him (Father Pat O'Brien's biggest fear)?

 

Well, how about all those street kids who paid their money to go to the show, and leave it knowing that Rocky faked his cowardice? Aren't they going to be regarding this street tough guy as a noble hero for going out that way?

 

It appears that Warners was more concerned about the welfare of its movie street kids than it was about the real ones that watched the film.

 

As for the other films that you named, Cagney gives a wonderfully sensitive and nuanced tough guy performance in City for Conquest. Another Cagney performance that was also worthy of a nomination, in my opinion, was in The Strawberry Blonde.

 

Finally, I would agree with the Academy when it gave Cagney a nomination for Love Me Or Leave Me, rather than Mister Roberts. Cagney's performance in the latter, while enjoyable (who can forget the "Whoooo did it?" moment) is also disappointingly two dimensional, in my opinion. There are no grey shadings in this characterization. Strictly a black and white villain.

 

His Marty the Gimp portrayal, in having him play a stridently nasty and self absorbed little man, also gave the actor an opportunity to bring some subtle vulnerability to the part, as well, particularly in his last scene in the film. Cagney is far too honest an actor to try to sentimentalize this hard nut that he's playing, of course, but we can see that he still carries a torch for the singer at the end of the film, even though by that time he knows the relationship is clearly over.

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Yes, absolutely I have problems with the ending to Angels With Dirty Faces (who, at least deep down, doesn't?) but that's all the more reason why i think it's a brilliant performance. Both the character and the actor were told to "play it" like that- whether he wanted to or not and whether we agree with it or not- and both succeed- in spite of the fact that it's a daunting challenge to say the least. 

 

Personally, I think Kirk Douglas in Champion is a touch better than Cagney in White Heat- but I agree the "ambiguous morality" of the latter film had something to do with its unfair snubbing in Picture, director and acting categories (supporting too, as Margaret Wycherly is wonderful in her small role and Virginia Mayo easily gives her best performance.) Looking back, it's easy to see that three of the best films made that year were White Heat, They Live by Night and Gun Crazy- but had any one of those actually broken through and been nominated over the utterly dreadful films that did make the Best Picture cut (with the exception of The Heiress and Battleground ) people would've lost their collective s***.

 

White Heat was at least nominated for Best Original Story (by Virginia Kellogg) tellingly, it lost to the utter pap that was The Stratton Story.

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Speaking of Angels with Dirty Faces, did you ever stop to consider the spectacular hyprocisy of that film regarding its message at the end? Remember how Rocky goes to the chair, feigning cowardice, so the Dead End Kids don't worship him and grow up to be criminals just like him (Father Pat O'Brien's biggest fear)?

 

Well, how about all those street kids who paid their money to go to the show, and leave it knowing that Rocky faked his cowardice? Aren't they going to be regarding this street tough guy as a noble hero for going out that way?

 

It appears that Warners was more concerned about the welfare of its movie street kids than it was about the real ones that watched the film.

 

 

Can't quite agree with your premise here Tom, because to this very day when people first see this classic and because of how well Jimmy plays his part, some people afterward will say he DID feign his cowardice as a last good deed to his pal O'Brien and then again some will say he didn't.

 

In other words, because of its somewhat purposeful unclear ending, who's to say all or even most of those street kids of long ago who went to go see this movie would automatically assume, let alone "know", that Jimmy faked it as they walked out of the theater?

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Can't quite agree with your premise here Tom, because to this very day when people first see this classic and because of how well Jimmy plays his part, some people afterward will say he DID feign his cowardice as a last good deed to his pal O'Brien and then again some will say he didn't.

 

In other words, because of its somewhat purposeful unclear ending, who's to say all or even most of those street kids of long ago who went to go see this movie would automatically assume, let alone "know", that Jimmy faked it as they walked out of the theater?

Dargo, I appreciate what you are saying. And Cagney wrote the same thing in his autobiography about the ending being ambiguous to further support for your statement.

 

It's just that whenever I watch the film Rocky's conversion to "cowardice" is far too sudden for me to ever believe that it's real.

 

Here's an image of the last shot that we see of Cagney's face in the film:

 

images2_zps0e023499.jpg

 

Now you tell me - is that a look of cowardice or defiance? I don't see any ambiguity there. And that shot occurs literally seconds before Rocky begins to whimper and plead for mercy. So just how can anyone doubt that the "cowardice" is not just an act? And that would apply, I believe, to the majority of those hero-worshipping street kids watching Rocky up on the big screen.

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Dargo, I appreciate what you are saying. And Cagney wrote the same thing in his autobiography about the ending being ambiguous to further support for your statement.

 

It's just that whenever I watch the film Rocky's conversion to "cowardice" is far too sudden for me to ever believe that it's real.

 

Here's an image of the last shot that we see of Cagney's face in the film:

 

 

 

Now you tell me - is that a look of cowardice or defiance? I don't see any ambiguity there. And that shot occurs literally seconds before Rocky begins to whimper and plead for mercy. So just how can anyone doubt that the "cowardice" is not just an act? And that would apply, I believe, to the majority of those hero-worshipping street kids watching Rocky up on the big screen.

 

Ok,  I can see how a hero-worshipping street kid could leave the theater viewing Rocky as a hero,  who faked being a coward to help a dear childhood friend,    but one thing is 100% clear;  Rocky is DEAD.     So the flim still provided the message crime doesn't pay.   

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Ok,  I can see how a hero-worshipping street kid could leave the theater viewing Rocky as a hero,  who faked being a coward to help a dear childhood friend,    but one thing is 100% clear;  Rocky is DEAD.     So the flim still provided the message crime doesn't pay.   

But there's a romance about Rocky Sullivan dying a hero's death (and by faking his cowardice, it would be viewed as a noble gesture). I can envision a lot of street kids with limited prospects more attracted to that than the parish priest who wants to teach them to play basketball and obey the law.

 

It's Rocky's last look of defiance (proving to them he was a gutsy guy) followed by his act of "nobility" that will stay in their minds as they walk out of the theatre. I'm not certain that the "crime doesn't pay" message will be as apparent to them. 

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Last time I posted on this thread, I made the blasphemous statement that I had never seen a James Cagney movie.  I'm happy to say that that problem has been rectified.

 

While I can't say that this is "the" James Cagney movie for me, as I've now only seen one, I thought it was a mighty fine one to start with. 

 

While perusing my local used movie store to see what new stuff had come in since I'd been there last (I have tons of store credit, so I've been there often), I spotted the TCM Greatest Gangster Films Collection: Prohibition Era, used.  On this DVD, it included, Little Caesar, Smart Money, The Public Enemy and The Roaring Twenties.  Being a big Bogart fan, naturally I opted to watch The Roaring Twenties first.  Despite there being a glaring error on the synopsis on the back of the box, (it stated that "Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino star..." Ida Lupino was definitely not in this film), I enjoyed this film very much. 

 

I've heard a few Cagney impressions via other films, cartoons and television shows and I was happy to hear that all the impressions were for the most part, correct.  I also had a thought of whether Bugs Bunny's speech patterns were partially based on Humphrey Bogart's; but that's a discussion for a different thread.  Anyway, I really enjoyed this film.  I liked the progression showing how Cagney became a bootlegger.  Coming back to New York City after the Armistice in WWI, he expected that everything would basically be waiting for him.  Disillusioned that his job wasn't held for him and that life had basically gone on without him, Cagney gets a job as a cab driver and through various connections, gets into the bootlegging business.  I loved seeing how his small bootlegging business grew and grew until it was a large business and very violent and corrupt.  SPOILER ALERT! It was great to see the 1929 Stock Market crash bring Cagney back down to earth and return him to the simpler life of driving cabs.

 

It was a great story and wonderfully acted by Bogart and Cagney.   Priscilla Lane also appeared in this film.  I have seen her in Saboteur and Arsenic and Old Lace and have enjoyed her performances.  If I hadn't seen her name in the opening credits, I would not have even recognized her.  This film was made only a few years before Saboteur.  I'm wondering if it was the hairstyle that rendered her unrecognizable, or perhaps she lost some weight before her films from the early 40s.  I'm not sure.  I hadn't realized she was a singer.  I don't believe her voice was dubbed as it did sound like her.  However, I think I like William Frawley's rendition of "Melancholy Baby" better-- but I'm obsessed with I Love Lucy so that's probably why.

 

I love the gangster films.  I know that they're for the most part "bad guys" and that I'm sure the Breen office didn't want the public rooting for them; but I always do.  I love all the action-- the gun fights, bar brawls, car chases, everything.  The gangsters always drive such cool cars and are such snappy dressers, who couldn't love them? Plus, many of my favorite actors play gangsters (Bogart and Edward G. Robinson) so that is an added plus.  If GenRipper's time machine would allow more trips, I'd love to visit a speakeasy and listen to the live entertainment and drink the bathtub gin.  I would pop back into the time machine just as it's about to be raided by the fuzz. 

 

All in all, this was a great introduction to Cagney and I look forward to watching more.  Plus, this film also allowed me to cross a movie off my list of 1939 films to watch.  Kudos to The Roaring Twenties!

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