erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 1930s posts

Friday June 07, 2019

Movie Review: The Crowd Roars (1932)

The Crowd Roars with James Cagney movie review


Howard Hawks' “The Crowd Roars” is a perfect example of why I like watching old movies. Not because it's good—it’s not—but the history. Questions I didn’t even know I had got answered. That doesn't happen with new movies. If a new movie is bad, it's just bad.

“Crowd” stars James Cagney and Joan Blondell, and has cameos from top race-car drivers of the era (Harry Hartz, Fred Frame, Billy Arnold), while Fred Duesenberg is namechecked. But what won me over was this line:

OK, so they screwed up the subtitle. What she actually says is: “Fifty million racecar drivers can’t be wrong.”

Immediately, I was like: “Wait. That Elvis album was playing off something else?”

The album in question is, of course, “50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong” from 1959. It’s a title so goofy it stays with you. A few years ago, in my day job, we did an article on a Memphis attorney who sends out cards to his clients; but he avoids the Christmas rush, or ignores it, by sending them a few weeks later: Jan. 8 for Elvis’ birthday. They’re Elvis cards, and he sends about 5,000 of them. So of course we called the piece “5,000 Elvis Cards Can’t Be Wrong.”

Long way of saying I have a long history with the phrase. But I had no idea until today that that phrase had an antecedent.

So what was Blondell’s line playing off of? Turns out: “50 Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong,” a hit song by Sophie Tucker from 1927. Two years later, Cole Porter, no less, debuted a Broadway musical simply called “Fifty Million Frenchmen.” That’s how it started. Another reminder that we arrive in this culture in medias res.

As for the rest of the movie, Mrs. Lincoln?

Big shot
“The Crowd Roars” starts with distant footage of a sportscar race. Then there’s a crash, the crowd gasps, and we get the title. So shouldn’t the title be “The Crowd Gasps”?

Cagney plays Joe Greer, who’s one of the best race-car drivers in America. That can only mean one thing in a Cagney movie: His fall is inevitable.

We quickly gauge how it’ll happen, too. He has two issues:

  • He wont tell his family about the girl in his life, Lee (Ann Dvorak)
  • He drinks too much

Then he returns home to Indiana (Cagney?) to the pop who loves him (Guy Kibbee), and Eddie, the kid brother who wants to emulate him (Eric Linden). At first Joe pushes Eddie away; he doesn’t want him hurt in a car wreck. But soon he’s mentoring him and taking him back to Los Angeles, where Lee is waiting. Then he pushes her away. He says:

Lee, the kid doesn’t know anything about us. Both of us have to soft-pedal while he’s around. You understand.

Uhhh ... no. What the hell are you talking about?

Later, Lee and her best friend, Anne Scott (Blondell), are in Lee’s room, dishing dirt, when Eddie stops by. They give him a drink. Anne flashes some leg. Everyone’s getting chummy. Then Joe shows up, scatters the crew and breaks up with Lee:

Joe: Lee, we’re calling it quits.Lee: What do you mean?
Joe: On account of the kid, you understand?

Uhhh ... no. What the hell are you talking about?

Seriously, was Lee a prostitute or something?

Anyway, to show Joe what it’s like to lose someone he loves, Lee has Anne go for Eddie. She wins him over pretty quick ... but she falls, too. This burns up Joe, he and Eddie fight, and for the next big race Eddie is driving for another team. In the midst it, his affable partner, Spud Connors (affable Frank McHugh), tries to come between them. Literally. With his car. Joe, who’s behind, and who was drinking before the race, starts ramming him. You see where this is going, right? Spud’s car bursts into flames, he screams in pain, dies.

Cut to: A series of newspaper headlines charting Eddie’s rise and Joe's fall. He finishes seventh in a county fair. He’s lost his nerve. They don’t call it trauma—not in 1932 and not at Warner Bros. They say “he’s turned yella.”

Anyway it’s that Cagney trajectory again. Long rise, quick fall, then stumbling around with five o’clock shadow. “He used to be a big shot.”

Please pardon the fact that my car is ahead of yours and maybe disrupting your ability to see
The final act includes something Cagney rarely gets—redemption. He’s hanging around the track in Indianapolis before the big race, where all the hotshot racers turn him down for jobs—they have too much respect for him, see—and then a guy running a coffee joint recognizes him and gives him a free meal. Guess who serves it? Lee! Who’s in Indiana there looking for him. They make up. Then the race. Eddie’s winning but he injures his arm so Joe takes over—with Eddie in the passenger’s seat. (Almost all of this is via distant shots, with announcers creating the drama.) They’re about to take the lead again when Joe flashes back to poor Spud; but Eddie is there to keep his foot on the pedal. They win.  

The movie ends on an oddly light note—with the various racecar drivers, heading to the hospital in different ambulances, encouraging their drivers to beat the others.

This is another of those early ’30s Warner Bros. movies (see: “The Mayor of Hell”) that the studio saw fit to remake at the end of the decade. I guess they were running out of ideas? The ’39 version is called “Indianapolis Speedway” and stars Pat O’Brien (of course) and John Payne as the brothers; Ann Sheridan and Gale Page as the girls; and Frank McHugh resurrecting his role as Spud.

I had a vague thought that maybe “Crowd Roars” was one of the first movies about auto racing, but not even close. Wallace Reid made a slew of them in the early ’20s: “The Roaring Road,” “Double Speed,” “Too Much Speed,” and (my favorite title) “Excuse My Dust.” But “Crowd Roars” may be the first feature-length talkie about auto racing.

Posted at 09:07 PM on Friday June 07, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  

Thursday May 16, 2019

Movie Review: The Whole Town's Talking (1935)


It’s got a great premise—particularly for early 1930s Warner Bros.

A mild-mannered clerk, Arthur Ferguson Jones (Edward G. Robinson), turns out to be a doppelganger for Public Enemy No. 1, Killer Mannion (also Edward G. Robinson), and antics ensue.

If Hollywood made it today, it would become a “worm turns” movie. That’s what I assumed this would be. Maybe Jones is mistaken for Mannion, or maybe Mannion threatens him and menaces his family and friends; and that’s when Jones finally develops courage and initiative and shows the world what he’s made of.


  • Jones is mistaken for Mannion
  • Mannion menaces his family and friends
  • The worm never turns, he just lucks out

This is particularly odd given that the female lead, Miss Clark (Jean Arthur), the gum-crackin’, wise-talkin’ gal in the office, thinks he’s more than a mild-mannered clerk. Later in the movie, she’ll tell the others in her office, “I always told you that rabbit had something.” Except he doesn’t. 

The police don’t come off well, either. A patron at a restaurant fingers Jones as Mannion, and cops show up and haul both him and Miss Clark away. They interrogate both. He’s nervous, she’s cracking wise. When they realize they’ve got the wrong man, and that they might keep getting the wrong man—i.e., others might finger Jones as Mannion—the D.A. (Arthur Byron) gives him a signed letter to show to any police officer, saying, in effect, “Don’t worry; this man isn’t Mannion. 

(Fingerprinting? No mention of it. Even though it had been around for decades. See: “Pudd’nhead Wilson” by Mark Twain.)

Of course, Mannion gets wind of the exculpatory letter and shows up at Jones’ apartment and takes it. Now he can move around town at his leisure—and in broad daylight, too.

Jones has also been writing columns for the local newspaper about his experiences; but now Mannion is dictating them. He’s telling his story, see? He also uses the letter/resemblance to get into local prison and murder a rival, “Slugs” Martin (Edward Brophy), who was ready to squeal on him. Then when Miss Clark visits Jones and figures out it’s Mannion, they nab her. To where? Both she and Jones’ aunt are locked up in the gang’s basement hideout, but we don’t find that out until the final reel. She just disappears from the film. Our best character.

How does Jones win? Luck. He shows up at the gang’s hideout, they think he’s Mannion, and when the real Mannion comes through the door he orders the gang to plug him. They do. They kill Mannion thinking it’s Jones. Then cops, etc.

Arthur is good, of course, but it’s Robinson’s movie. He plays ineffectual fine but it’s when he shows up as Mannion, with those dead, killer eyes staring at his doppelganger, that you realize just how good he is.

Posted at 05:28 PM on Thursday May 16, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  

Monday May 13, 2019

Movie Review: Winner Take All (1932)


It’s 66 minutes long, seems longer, and Cagney isn’t really Cagney in it. He’s dopier, his voice register lower. And his face? Ain’t pretty no more. That’s a key plot point, actually.

He plays Jimmy Kane, a middleweight boxer who begins the film on the outs. He’s been boozing and broading too much, so his manager, Pop Slavin (character actor Guy Kibbee, who made 18(!) movies that year, including five in which he played someone named “Pop”) sends him to recuperate at a ranch/hot springs in San Rosario, New Mexico. Kane doesn’t want to go. He’s a New York guy. But on the first night, he meets Peggy (Marian Nixon), a chirpy single mom, and her saccharine son, Dickie (Dickie Moore, a ’30s child star), and the three become inseparable. 

Mother and son are there for Dickie’s health, or something, and they’re about to get the boot unless someone coughs up $600. So Kane, though ordered to rest, fights a contender in Tijuana (then called “Tia Juana”) in a winner-take-all match. He wins, gets the dough, gives it to Peggy, tries to deflect credit. At this point, the boozing-and broading guy is nowhere in sight; he’s a hero. So much so I was wondering if he was being played—if Peggy and Dickie were grifters who bilked good-hearted souls. That might’ve made a better movie.

Instead, the Tia Juana fight demonstrates he’s back in the game, Pop sets up more fights, and he’s a contender and back in New York again.

Got that? For the first 15 minutes, the drama is “Can he get back to boxing?” And he does. So what’s the drama for the rest of the movie?

Well, he falls for a society dame, Joan Gibson (Virginia Bruce).


And that’s it.

At first she’s flirty and then isn’t. One moment she’s interested and then not at all. Half the time she looks at him with disgust. She tells him he might be handsome if not for his busted nose and cauliflower ear, so he gets plastic surgery and winds up looking like how Jimmy Cagney usually looks. But she’s disappointed in this, too. It takes the edge off him, she says—all the more because he becomes a “powder puff” boxer who turns down title fights to dance around with lesser talents to protect his pretty face. Even though it gets him nowhere with the society dame:

Now he lost all the things that made him colorful and different. He’s just ordinary now, like any other man. And one thing I can’t stand is bad grammar spoken through a perfect, Grecian nose.

You know how early Cagney was always slapping around women or pushing a grapefruit in their face? This one deserves it. And she gets away. Well, nearly.

What happens? He finally takes the title fight, hears mid-fight she’s about to board a cruise ship, so he finishes the champ off quickly to get to the ship on time, finds her with another man, decks that guy, kicks her in the can, then runs off the boat laughing like a schoolboy. He runs all the way back into the arms of Peggy—with his new busted nose. “Look out for the schnozzle,” he says, repeating a line he said after the Tia Juana fight; “it’s full a firecrackers.” 

The end.

Not good. Jimmy is stuck between two women, chirpy and bitchy, and too stupid to realize those are his only choices. There’s nobody to root for here. I don’t even know if I wanted him to win that final fight.

Virginia Bruce (born: Minneapolis, 1909) makes a great villain, though. You really do hate her.

Who do we root for? Pop maybe. Also the trainer, Rosebud, who is played by African-American actor Clarence Muse, and seems a real person rather than stereotype. My father interviewed him once in 1976, when Muse was 87 and visiting the Twin Cities. It’s a good read.

Hey, Kane and Rosebud. In the same movie. Coincidence?

For all that, we still get our racist moments. There’s a recurring bit where society folks are talking lofty world politics and Kane keeps bringing it back to the plebian. They express admiration for Russia’s five-year plan, for example, but Kane thinks they’re talking installment plans, which he thinks is a sucker’s game: “I pay cash for everything.” They also talk the rumblings of the second Sino-Japanese war, and when they mention how the Japanese are real fighters Kane takes umbrage. He calls them “brown babies” and says they have trouble with punches to the gut. “Can’t take it downstairs,” he says. 

We get some good bits. Kane takes Joan dancing, she’s wearing a fancy, backless dress and he puts his hand on her upper, naked back—then looks confused. He moves it down. Still skin. Then further. Finally he looks around to see where the clothing starts again: “You had me worried for a minute.”

I also like Pop telling post-surgery Jimmy he’s getting the “high hat.” The Coens knew what they were doing in “Miller’s Crossing.”

But the movie that’s truly prefigured is “Rocky II.” In that Tia Juana fight, both boxers are going at it pretty good. Then they both land a blow and both go down, but it’s Jimmy who claws his way back up before the 10 count to win. Is this where Sylvester Stallone got the idea for the climactic ending of “Rocky II”?


  • The opening. Cagney's the lead but not by much. He's the main player among the players; he doesn't even get his own title card.

  • The “Tia Juana” fight, and the double blow that fells both boxers. 

  • Our man wins. “Rocky II” anyone? See video here

  • Kane/Cagney leaves for other fights, promising to write the girl and the boy; but he's got a short memory. Nice shot here by Roy Del Ruth. 

  • High society. Despite all looks, it's the woman on the right that's the problem. 

  • Or you could say Cagney is. He gets plastic surgey to please her, then worries about losing his looks. 

  • As a result, pilloried in the press. 

  • And ringside. 

  • Another boo bird. 

  • This series of shots is my favorite part of the movie. 

  • “The high hat.” *FIN*
Posted at 07:28 AM on Monday May 13, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  

Thursday May 09, 2019

Movie Review: Shanghai (1935)


Loretta Young falls in love with a Chinese man! Wow. What a forward-looking movie by Paramount.

OK, so the Chinese man is half Chinese.

OK, so he’s played by French actor Charles Boyer, the great romantic lead of the time.

Who sounds French. And looks French.

Movie review: Shanghai with Loretta Young and Charles BoyerAnd the Chinese themselves think their relationship is a bad idea. (So it’s not just us.)

OK, so “the Chinese,” in this instance, is Ambassador Lun Sing, who is played by Hollywood’s go-to Chinese star of the 1930s, Warner Oland, who is, of course, Swedish.

And though set in bustling Shanghai, we hardly meet anyone who's Chinese. Keye Luke and Willie Fung are given perfunctory scenes, but overall “Shanghai” is a drawing-room melodrama created by white writers (C. Graham Baker, Lynn Starling, and Gene Towne), a white director (James Flood) and a white producer (Walter Wanger), whose main message is that hopefully someday prejudice will die.

Got it.

Crossed strains
Sorry. Easy to poke fun 80 years later. The filmmakers were well-meaning people who were dealing with the prejudices of the day, and a production code that forbade “miscegenation,” while still trying to sell wish-fulfillment fantasy to the masses. So ... this. 

New York socialite Barbara Howard (Loretta Young) travels by ship to Shanghai because her Aunt Jane (Alison Skipworth) is ill; but it’s all a ruse. Aunt Jane is worried Barbara is too much in the gossip rags and wants to save the family name; but Barbara is feisty and about to take the next steamer back when she meets Dimitri Koslov (Charles Boyer), a banker.

She’d met him once before. Or eyed him. When she first arrives, he’s among the rickshaw drivers crowding the gangplank begging for work. So how did he become a banker so quickly? Connections. 关系。Also, he’d been a banker. Then he starts his own financial advisory business. In a flash, he’s the talk of Shanghai. Plus he’s with Loretta Young. Not a bad deal.

Until Ambassador Lun Sing obliquely reminds him of his place.

Lun Sing: In Shanghai, one may defy all the conventions but one. It matters not how noble the strains, if they have been crossed—as yours have been—a man becomes an outcast. You are in grave danger, my son. Your features are those of your father. It would have been better for you had your saintly mother predominated. Even I must sometimes remind myself that you came from her. Many women of your father's race will love you. That you cannot prevent. But you can, you must, keep yourself from loving them. [Sips his tea] I often say, next to myself, no one in Shanghai serves such tea as Dimitri Koslov.
Koslov: Clever tea makers—we Chinese.

“Crossed strains”: Don’t hear that much anymore.

For a time, as his fortunes rise, Koslov heeds Lun Sing and avoids Barbara. She keeps phoning, generally lounging on a chaise, but he’s never available. Finally she just shows up. He’s distant, and she assumes he’s interested in power, since he’s not interested in her. But just before Lun Sing walks in, they kiss and she melts.

Now the question becomes: How will she take it once she finds out? Koslov has confidence; Lun Sing is not so sure. Also, how to tell her? Quietly? Privately? Just the two of them?

Of course not. Koslov throws a costume party and wears his rickshaw outfit. Barbara comes dressed in the same outfit that the Chinese princess wears in the giant painting on his wall. And before a large crowd of well-wishers, he thanks the two women to whom he owes his success: Barbara, and, indicating the painting, “my beloved mother.”

Everyone resists letting that other shoe drop.

Aunt: Your mother, Mr. Koslov? But she is a ...
Koslov: A Manchurian princess, who condescended to marry my distinguished father, who was only a Russian general.

Amid murmurs, people slowly drift away. Aunt Jane doesn’t murmur at all; she calls loudly for Barbara, who holds her drink and stares sadly at Koslov. She takes a sip and stares again. Then she sets down the drink and walks away. 

End scene.

Guess what? In 10 minutes, this will be the good family.

Apocalypse Now Predux
Koslov leaves Shanghai and Barbara decides to go look for him—she loves him even with the crossed strains. Her younger brother Tommy backs her. So does their black servant, Coretta (Libby Taylor), who is going along because she knows Mandarin. It’s the older generation that’s the problem. Except ... Aunt Jane gives Barbara her mink coat to keep her warm. She’s suddenly cool with it, too? Yep. And that’s how they become the good family. That’s how Hollywood pats itself (and us) on the back. We’re OK, they’re awful.

Chartering a boat up the river, Barbara witnesses backbreaking Chinese laborers with sad eyes in very expensive outfits. At one point they refuse to go further so she surrenders her mink. Eventually she reaches Koslov. She wants to make it work now, and this is her argument: “Should I hate the man I love because he falls ill or becomes a cripple or goes blind?” Imagine the metaphors if he’d been 100 percent Chinese.

Even so, they plan to get married ... until back in Shanghai, Lun Sing tells Koslov he’s financially ruined. He also tells Koslov the real lesson of his parents:

The world beat them down—humiliation, poverty, despair for them both. For your mother, death.  ... She killed herself. Those who commit folly must someday pay for it.

Emphasis mine.

Anyway that’s why they call it off, to not commit such folly, and it leads to our end: the intertwined lovers, cheeks pressed against each other, agreeing not to go on, because the world is just too awful.

What was the world’s reaction to “Shanghai”? I couldn’t find much. One wonders if it even played in the South. The New York Times praised Boyer for displaying “the twin virtues of restraint and understatement” but felt the film simply wandered to its conclusion, which the reviewer, like Lun Sing, felt was inevitably “a tragic one.”

To which our Chinese hero might add: Mais bien sur.

“Someday, darling, the world won't be as awful as I was when I first found out.”

Posted at 07:27 AM on Thursday May 09, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  

Tuesday May 07, 2019

Movie Review: Taxi (1932)


It begins great. No fanfare, just right to it. We got a shot of New York City in the early 1930s with an absolutely gorgeous Loews Theater in the background. Then we get the stars’ names: 

James Cagney
Loretta Young

It’s so New York. A Jewish man is trying to explain his dilemma in Yiddish to an Irish cop. Something about kinder and Ellis Island. I assume meeting kids at Ellis Island? The cop’s not understanding, scratching his head, so Matt Dolan (Cagney), a cabbie who’s been listening amused to the whole back-and-forth, speaks to the Jewish man in Yiddish. (Apparently Cagney was fluent.) Guy gets into the cab while the cop eyes Cagney’s driver’s license on the dashboard:

Cop: [Sarcastic] Nolan? What part of Ireland did your folks come from?
Nolan: [Yiddish accent] Delancey Street, denk you.

Then the plot. We’ve already seen a cab company, Consolidated, muscling out other independent and freelance cabbies. They try to do the same to Nolan, boxing him in so he can’t take the guy to Ellis Island. So he gets out of his cab, and with that dancer’s lightness Cagney always had, punches one mug, then the other. The Yiddish man cheers him on. 

Temper temper
We think that’s the story: Cagney and the other indies vs. Consolidated. Indeed, one of the indies, nice guy Pop Riley (Guy Kibbee), who’s been servicing the same neighborhood for years, is threatened by Consolidated’s leader, Buck Gerard (David Landau). Pop is obviously frightened but stands his ground. Then one of Landau’s men (Nat Pendleton, who played Goliath the strong man in the Marx Bros.’ “At the Circus”), rams his truck into Pop’s cab, totaling it. In a scuffle, Pop shoots him dead. The judge is lenient, given the circumstance, but Pop still gets 10 years. He serves hardly any of it. He kills himself.

Since his daughter, Sue Riley, is played by the film’s other star, Loretta Young, we figure, “Yes, that’s the story: these two battle the Consolidated bad guys and win the day for the independents.” Hell, IMDb still thinks that’s the story:

Independent cab drivers struggling against a taxi company consortium find a leader in Matt Nolan.

But that’s not the story. 

Dolan is giving a fiery speech to other indies when he has Sue step up to speak in Pop’s stead. And she ... counsels peace. She says enough blood has been shed. She says work out a deal with Consolidated.

And they do! Fifteen minutes into the picture, we get this headline:

Dolan isn’t having any of it. “Yeah?” he says to his fellow cabbies. “How long is that peace gonna last? Six months. And then they start getting tough again. ... We shoulda done the job right in the first place—drove their cabs right into the East River.”

Except he’s wrong: The peace lasts the entire movie. The cabbie war is never brought up again. 

So if the movie isn’t about independent cabbies fighting against a corrupt behemoth, what’s it about?

It’s about how Cagney needs to control his temper. I’m not kidding.

Dolan is totally pissed at Sue for brokering the peace. The next night, when he meets her outside her stoop and they squabble, he says, “I’ll knock the ears off ya.” Instead, she slaps him, runs inside, while he tells his friends, “I wouldn’t go out with that dame if she was the last woman on earth—and I just got out of the Navy.”

But in the very next scene, with no real exposition on what changed, they’re cozy and on a double date with his friend Skeets (George E. Stone) and her friend Ruby (Leila Bennett—the Julie Kavner of the 1930s). There’s a rocky courtship, then they get engaged, then married, and on their wedding night, at “The Cotton-Pickin’ Club” in Harlem, they—and Skeets and Ruby—run into Buck Gerard. He’s drunk. His girl, Marie (Dorothy Burgess), talks Sue into getting Dolan out of the joint before things go south. Sue agrees. But things go south. Gerard makes a sloppy drunken comment about Sue, Dolan decks him, and Gerard comes at him with a knife ... just as Matt’s brother, Danny (Ray Cooke), comes between them. He dies.

And Sue still counsels peace. She actually helps Gerard. He’s on the lam, Marie asks for dough to get him out of the area, and Sue gives it to her. And it’s the money Matt had saved for Danny’s tombstone! Wow.

Matt finds out anyway, there’s a mad rush to Jersey where Gerard is holed up, and Cagney nearly utters the line that every impressionist/comedian/kid used for the next 50 years to do their Cagney:

Come out and take it, you dirty yella-bellied rat, or I’ll give it to ya through the door!

But the cops arrive and Sue gives up ... Matt. Her husband. Wow again. Except Matt still plugs the closet door. By then, though, Gerard had scrambled out the window and fell to his death. That's that. And in the final minutes of this 66-minute movie, Matt and Sue make up. They don’t change but they’re back together. World without end.

One of these days, Alice
Anyway, I loved all this stuff. I loved the meandering nature of the film. I loved that Donald Cook, Cagney’s co-star in “Public Enemy,” is the star of the fictional film they see on their double date, and that Dolan dismisses him with the movie studio comment, “His ears are too big.” I loved the George Raft cameo (Cagney got him the part because he could dance; he'd just arrived in Hollywood) and the Lil Dagover reference (I had to look her up).

I loved the pre-code naughtiness: Loretta Young stripping down to her slip to change into her waitress costume, while Leila Bennett drones on in front of an ALL EMPLOYEES MUST WASH THEIR HANDS sign—meaning those things have been around for at least 90 years. I loved Skeets watching Sue run up the steps of her stoop and saying, almost with a Groucho cadence, “Anyway, she’s got a nice pair of pins.”

Bennett has some of the movie’s best lines:

  • I wish I could meet some big Spaniard with a lot of money.
  • You know, I'm getting to the point where I ain’t as particular as I used to be. I’ll marry any guy that's got a collar and shirt, and if it comes to a pinch, marry him without the shirt.
  • [to Skeets] C’mon, I feel like bein' bored, and you can do the job better than anyone I know. 

Watching, I began thinking about the difference between Warner’s big stars of the ’30s and ‘40s: Cagney and Bogie.

Bogart was the toughest guy in the room but a woman could break his heart. Cagney was the toughest guy in the room but a woman could ... nothing. He mostly looked at them with lust; and once they were no longer of use, he’d just as soon mash a grapefruit in their face. The sensation that scene caused in “Public Enemy” meant it had to be repeated throughout his early films. Here, for example, he keeps threatening Loretta Young with a fist under the chin and the line, “If I thought you meant that...” It’s his catchphrase. It’s “One of these days, Alice” 20 years before Gleason. (ADDENDUM after reading “Cagney” by John McCabe: It's also the line his then-dead father used on his mother: “In a love scene with Sue, he repeats his father's trick of placing his left hand around the girl's neck and softly grazing her chin with the right fist, saying, ‘If I thought you meant that—’ Carrie Cagney, seeing the film in a Yorkville theater with her daughter, wept aloud when she saw the scene.”)

Directed by Roy Del Ruth, from “The Blind Spot,” a play by Kenyon Nicholson, “Taxi” is raw. They still don’t have this stuff down—they’re just throwing things up and seeing what sticks. I think that’s why I like it so much. It’s Hollywood, and the movies, becoming.


  • This is the open: Right into it. And look at that theater! According to, it was part of a blockwide amusement center in midtown Manhattan created by Oscar Hammerstein in 1895, then broken into parts. Marcus Loew bought two of them and that's this. New movies showed daily, or thrice-weekly, at 10-15 cents a pop, from 1915 to 1935; then it was torn down in favor of a newer theater, the Criterion. Now it's a Gap. That's both fact and metaphor. 

  • Cagney talking Yiddish—half mensch, half gonif. 

  • The girl. She loses a kindly father, gains a quick-tempered husband, counsels peace throughout. 

  • She also loses her clothes periodically. This was before Hollywood had a code. Or before the code had teeth.  

  • Bennett—the Julie Kavner of the 1930s. 

  • The faux film. In a faux theater? Did the Winter Garden ever show movies? Randy?

  • Cagney loses the dance but wins the fight. “You dirty Raft...”

  • The ride home. Great shot. Tells its own story. 

  • Getting the marriage license. “We‘re not saying marriage is a prison, but ...”  

  • Wedding night: Enjoying the show at the “Cotton Pickin’ Club” in Harlem.

  • Was Loretta Young ever lovelier? She needed to play working class more often. 

  • “If I thought you meant that...” It's Cagney's “to the moon, Alice!” Odd seeing today. Cf., Louis CK's riff on “wife beater” T-shirts

  • But it all works out in the end.  

  • Kinda. “Honey, I know he killed my father and your brother. But you've got to learn to control that temper!” *FIN*
Posted at 08:08 AM on Tuesday May 07, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  
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Twitter: @ErikLundegaard