The Public Enemy

My obsession with James Cagney continues with this film, one that I was most looking forward to.

And it certainly did not disappoint. James’ acting in this was a little different to the other films I have seen him in, more restrained in comparison. He was quite menacing in some scenes, as he was in all his gangster roles. He could say a lot with just the expression on his face, very much like Jack Nicholson did decades later.

The story was a typical gangster story, and was based on an unreleased book written by two street thugs who had witnessed Al Capone’s gang wars in Chicago, so it must have been reasonably authentic. It was also pre-code, so it was quite violent for the times, and there was one scene involving what appeared to be a gay tailor that was cut out in the 1940’s, and only restored for the DVD release. That scene was quite funny, mostly because it seems so out of place for a 1930’s film.

There was one scene where Cagney and his partner learned that their gang boss had been killed by his own horse, kicked in the head, so off they went to the horse stable and assassinated it!

There was also the famous “grapefruit” scene where Cagney shoved a half grapefruit into his girlfriend’s face at the breakfast table. It was no big deal really, but the story behind the whole scene is interesting.


Another scene was the machine gunning of his partner. I was very impressed in this scene when we saw the corner of a building being ripped apart by the bullets, just a moment after Cagney ducked out of the way, I thought it looked very authentic for such an old film. Turns out though that they were actually shooting real bullets at the building. Cripes!

The cast in this was excellent, and some of the photography was very well done, it did not seem like a 1931 film at all. It was actually made on a low budget, but made seven times more than it’s budget at the box office. A theatre in Times Square ran the film 24 hours a day during it’s initial release.

The best thing to do is read the whole Wikipedia article about the film, it is good reading, but do so after watching this, which you must do.

Date watched: February 5th (on a dreary Sunday afternoon)
Score: 10/10
Film count 2017: 28


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