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Leonard Maltin hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1939, with newsreel, musical short "All Girl Revue," comedy short "The Great Library Misery," cartoon "Thugs with Dirty Mugs," and theatrical trailers
New featurette: "The Roaring Twenties: The World Moves On"
Three World War I buddies clash in a vicious bootlegging racket. Based on a Mark Hellinger story. Actors: James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart.
This Prohibition-era morality tale chronicles the rise and fall a working class veteran who, unable to find honest employment after the war, falls in with a ruthless gang of bootleggers. It's the original drug war and bullets are flying in this classic gangster film.
Cagney plays the role of a tough bootlegger who encounters two old army buddies years after the war in which they fought together. A fine screen adaptation of a story by Mark Hellinger.
The lead character is portrayed as a sexually magnetic, cocky, completely amoral, emotionally brutal, ruthless, and terribly lethal individual. However, the protagonist (a cold-blooded, tough-as-nails racketeer and "public enemy") begins his life, not as a hardened criminal, but as a young mischievous boy in pre-Prohibition city streets, whose early environment clearly contributes to the evolving development of his life of adult crime and his inevitable gruesome death. Unlike other films, this one examined the social forces and roots of crime in a serious way.
Cagney's character was based on real-life Chicago gangster Earl "Hymie" Weiss (who also survived a machine-gun ambush) and bootlegging mobster Charles Dion "Deanie" O'Banion (an arch-rival to Al Capone). Reportedly, an exasperated Weiss slammed an omelette (not a grapefruit) into the face of his girlfriend. Similarities also exist between the demise of Nails Nathan and the 1923 death of real-life Samuel J. "Nails" Morton of the O'Banion mob. The retaliatory horse killing in the film was a replay of a similar incident when organized crime figure Louis "Two-Gun" Alterie (and other North Side gang members) executed the offending horse in Chicago after the death of their friend.
James Cagney's dynamic, charismatic and magnetic characterization of the murderous thug was his fifth film performance. He had previously performed tough-guy roles in two other Warner Bros. features: Sinner's Holiday (1930) (his film debut with co-star Joan Blondell) and director Archie Mayo's The Doorway to Hell (1930). This volatile role made him famous and instantly launched his celebrated film star career, but it also typecast him for many years. [Originally, the roles were reversed, with Edward Woods playing the lead role, and Cagney in a secondary role, but a switch occurred when the contract screenwriters suggested that a mistake had been made. Therefore, the end credits bill Edward Woods above Cagney.] Cagney went on to play other criminal roles, including such films as Smart Money (1931) with Edward G. Robinson (their only teaming together), and Lady Killer (1933).