Johnny Come Lately

Continuing on with my James Cagney-O-rama, I watched this 1943 film, which was the first film produced by his brother William.

The story is about Cagney who is a vagrant (but a smart and lovable one) who helps the owner of a small town newspaper fight a local businessman who wants to close the paper down. Nothing original there.

As usual Cagney is his usual enthusiastic self, always entertaining to watch. Even in this comedy drama he was able to show off his fisticuff skills, he was going all out in a couple of scenes, and it was pretty physical stuff. The other actors do a decent job, and include the actress who played “Ma Kettle”, she was fun to watch too.

In this film we learn that Cagney can draw a decent caricature…


This is pretty treacly stuff on the whole, the violins and flute music playing throughout made it even more so, but it was worth watching for Cagney and Ma Kettle alone.

Date watched: February 13th
Score: 6.5/10
Film count 2017: 35


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


Great Guy

This 1936 film starred James Cagney as a tenacious and pugnacious inspector for the New York Department of Weights and Measures.

He has to fight corrupt businessmen and city officials who try to bribe him to look the other way, but James is a great guy and fights back, even when they resort to bring in the heavies.

The story itself is nothing special, and it is only Cagney that makes this film worthwhile watching. As in all of the films I have seen him in so far, he was a whirlwind of enthusiasm, confidence, and charm. As in Blood on the Sun, he does his own stunts, mostly involving fisticuffs, and in one scene is rather aggressively flipped over the shoulder of a very large fellow and crashes heavily into a wall, it looked pretty rough.

Co-starring was Mae Clarke who was in The Public Enemy with Cagney, and was the recipient of the famous grapefruit-to-the-face scene (I have yet to see that film).

For such an old film, 81 years old in fact, this looked and sounded pretty good, even on YouTube, although some frames seemed to be missing as I would miss the occasional word.

Not essential viewing, but I liked it.

Date watched: February 4th
Score: 7/10
Film count 2017: 27


Blood On The Sun

This is a 1945 film released produced by William Cagney Productions, James’s brother (who looked a lot like his famous bro).

William Cagney

The story was about an American journalist (Cagney) working in pre-war Japan. He got a document called “The Tanaka Plan” which outlines Japan’s plans to conquer the world, and the government spends most of he film trying to get it back.James has to smuggle them out, aided by the beautiful Iris who is a Chinese American (played by Sylvia Sidney, who is not Chinese at all), and at first he thinks is an assassin.

Other characters in the film include Premier Tanaka, Colonel Tojo, and Captain Oshima, all played by American actors.

James obviously did a lot of preparation for this film, including brushing up on his judo skills, and he did all of his own stunts. He also spoke some Japanese, and Chinese. The most impressive scene was the fight to the death with Captain Oshima, who was considerably bigger than him, and was a real life policeman and judo instructor. The fight went on for a couple of minutes, and James was really getting flung around, as well as flinging Oshima around. They were landing on wooden floors, and crashing into various props, real rough and tumble stuff.

Cagney after defeating two dudes, and about to be karate-chopped by Oshima

This was released a few months before the end of the war, but it was not an anti-Japanese propaganda film. The Japanese were not portrayed as evil, in fact the film makers were quite respectful to Japanese culture. It was an anti-fascist film though.

This won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction for a Black & White in 1945, but unfortunately the copy I watched on YouTube was not a good one so I could not appreciate that.

Like any other Cagney film, James was in hyperactive acting mode, and with his impressive judo skills in this film I would now rank him as one of my top five all-time great actors.

The film itself was nothing special, but it was still interesting and entertaining.

Date watched: January 28th
Score: 7/10 (mostly Cagney)
Film count 2017: 21


13 Rue Madeleine

I returned to the films of yore with this 1947 film starring James Cagney.

Cagney is an O77 (based on the O.S.S., Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the C.I.A.) espionage training instructor in World War Two who has been told there is a German infiltrator in a group of trainees. He has to find out who the infiltrator is, and what his mission is. The story ends up in France (filmed in Canada) where there is a mission to help prepare for the invasion of Europe.

Mostly it was a well told story, paced well, and acted well. Cagney played a different kind of character, but he was still the same Cagney, always confident and energetic. Despite his stocky build he was quite the athlete. There was a scene where he was teaching the trainees to tumble and he could do it very well I must say.

Throughout the film a narrator talking in a very propaganda documentary voice was explaining things which ruined it a bit.

The ending came swiftly and suddenly as many of these old films tend to do, but it was a good ending nonetheless.

Not the best Cagney film at all, although it was a success in the day. Cagney was paid the equivalent of US$3.2 million bucks for his part.

Date watched: January 3rd
Score: 7.5/10
Film count 2017: 3


White Heat

As I promised myself, for the 200th film of the year I would watch this 1949 James Cagney film, and it was worthy.

James played a gangster who loves his old ma (played by an English actress, and very good she was too) and she is the only person in the world he trusts. She is the one she goes to when he has sudden migraine attacks, and she is also in on his crime capers along with his moll wife, and his gang.

To avoid the death penalty for a train hold-up where four people were killed (based on an actual 1923 train robbery), he hands himself in for another crime in a different state, thus avoiding the death penalty.

I won’t go into the story much more as this is a film that every film-lover should see. There is a well known quote at the end.

James Cagney was absolutely brilliant as usual, and he had a lot of input in this film, including the prison mess hall scene which was very impressive. He is fast becoming my most fave actor of all time. The rest of the cast were good enough, but were overshadowed by James.

If there was an acting shoot-out between James Cagney and The Cruiser, James would win hands down. Tom would then scream. Actually, James can do a much better scream (see prison mess hall scene). Poor Tom.

I give this a ten mostly because of James Cagney, although the rest is still at least an eight.

Date watched: December 23rd
Score: 10/10
Film count 2016: 200