The Public Enemy (1931) Poster

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As a tsunami, nothing was able to stop Cagney once he was aroused, and no one even thought to try…
Nazi_Fighter_David8 May 2005
"Public Enemy" brought two things to the screen: the little tough guy, fast-talking, unscrupulous gangster characterization by James Cagney which was to follow him throughout his entire screen career, and the grapefruit scene… Though "Public Enemy" created the Cagney image, he had already appeared in two other gangsters films for Warners, as a murderer prepared to let someone else pay for his crime in "Sinner's Holiday," and as a double-crossing hoodlum in "Doorway to Hell." "Public Enemy," however, was a bigger-budget production, directed by William Wellman, and it contained all the elements of success… It is the story of two brothers who become Chicago booze barons in the Twenties... One was Cagney, the other Edward Woods… It is sometimes claimed that the story of "Public Enemy" is based on that of "Little Hymie" Weiss, leader of the North Side Chicago gang after the murder of Dion O'Banion by the Capones in 1924… What is more likely is that the Cagney characterization is based on "Little Hymie"; the plot itself is pure fiction… When Cagney, in his striped pajama, sat opposite Mae Clarke at breakfast and decided he had had enough of this boring broad, he wasted no time… He picked up half a grapefruit and planted it full into Clarke's face… It was a piece of screen action which has lasted down the years as the ultimate in violence from the gangster to his moll… Of course, it isn't – it just seems that way… Since then gir1s have been slapped, kicked, beaten up, run over, shot, stabbed and raped, all in the tradition of mobster violence… But at the time this scene was daring, and the more daring because it was totally unexpected… We remember Mae Clarke in "Public Enemy," yet forget that Jean Harlow was in it, too… There may have been good reason… The New York Times, reviewing the film in 1934, commented: "The acting throughout is interesting, with the exception of Jean Harlow, who essays the role of a gangster's mistress." Cagney made violence and a life of crime magically seductive, and "Public Enemy" made him Warners' number 2 gangster, second only to Edward G. Robinson…
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Grapefruit anyone?
jotix10028 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This was the film that made James Cagney a star. In a surprise move, Warner Brothers made him switch roles with Edward Woods, and the end is history. James Cagney, who made a career out of playing tough guys, appeared as Tom Powers, a young man who loved the company of all the Irish wise guys in his area. The film starts with a message from the studio about one is going to witness as it wanted to point to a social problem, and it ends with a sort of disclaimer about what was seen a social issue at the core of the society of those years. Tom Powers rises to the top of the crime scene when Prohibition went into effect. There was a lot of money to be made smuggling liquor and having pals like Paddy Ryan, who controlled the trade. Helped by his inseparable Matt Doyle, they make their mark as people that could get away with what the crimes they were committing. Tom Powers inspired violence because he was ruthless in the way he wanted to do things. The film, made before the arrival of the infamous Hays Code, gets away with showing the morality of the gangster on the scene and the women they went after. Tom's relationship with Kitty, and the cruelty he shows toward her, is something that the creators got away with. Tom's involvement with Gwen Allen, the beautiful blonde, is full of sexual suggestions. William Wellman, proved he was the right man for this movie. He brought the best in James Cagney and the rest of the cast. Unfortunately, the dialog sounds dated. The heavy make-up favored in those days looks funny of the men, especially. Mae Clarke, who is not even credited in the film, has one of the best moments of her film career in the movie. James Cagney and Edward Woods do some excellent work together. The sexy Jean Harlow is lovely to look at in this film as it brings her beauty to new heights. Donald Cook, Joan Blondell, and the rest of the supporting cast contribute to make one of the best films of the gangster genre.
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Great film from the beginnings of the gangster-movie-genre
pzanardo26 July 2005
"The Public Enemy" is one of the starting points of the great season of gangster movies, a very interesting work. It is not the story of the rise and fall of some big boss of crime. Tom Powers (James Cagney) and Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) are just small time crooks, and so they remain throughout the movie. Only, they make the big money that the circumstances of prohibition offer to any criminal. Tom is just a semi-illiterate, naturally violent thug. He is not even professional. He kills just out of stupidity or desire of a pointless revenge, that ultimately will severely damage himself. Further evidence of his cheap personality is shown when he instantly falls for the vulgar, tasteless girl Gwen (Jean Harlow). By the way, Harlow looks remarkably unattractive (to our modern eyes, at least). Was it a choice of director Wellmann? Matt is slightly better than Tom, but clearly he has not the guts to cross his mate. In my opinion a major credit of the film is that it systematically avoids cliché. Neither Tom nor Matt are outcomes of poverty and social injustice. They come from simple but honest, decent and loving families. But they are both bad (that's the word) and they use the freedom and opportunities of their democratic country to make evil. In "The Public Enemy" we find probably the first instances of the beautiful stylish cinematography and clever camera-work that will become the trade-mark of later gangster and noir movies. Some scenes are unforgettable, like the final one, or that under the rain, or that of Cagney abusing the girl. The brief scene of the killing of the horse is pure cinematic genius. In the film there are also some naiveness and clumsiness, though. The way Tom undergoes the personality of his good brother is far-fetched. It is not clear why a gangster in a hospital, wounded in a gun-fight, is not under strict police control. The behavior of Tom's boss in the ending is illogical. Moreover, the part where Tom and Matt are kids is too long (we audience are all eager to see Cagney!), and action is a bit scarce for a gangster movie. "The Public Enemy" was Cagney's breakout film, and really he makes a powerful and accurate job. Actually, a strong acting is provided by the whole cast. The director William A. Wellmann handles the movie with sound talent. "The Public Enemy" is a beautiful and historically important movie. I recommend it to any cinema-lover
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Powerful portrait of the rise and fall of a nasty gangster extraordinarily performed by James Cagney
ma-cortes9 June 2012
This is one of the great early talkies and still a highly watchable movie ; it results to be one of the great mobsters pictures, and an expertly directed film that made James Cagney a superstar . A young and vicious hoodlum named Tom (James Cagney based his performance on Chicago gangster Dean O'Bannion, and two New York City hoodlums he had known as a youth) along with his fellow Matt (Edward Woods) rise up through the ranks of the Chicago underworld. From their teen-aged years into young adulthood, unredeemable Tom and obstinate Matt have an increasingly lucrative life , bootlegging during the Prohibition era. Tom's bad way of life is constantly set up against his brother Mike's (Donald Cook) . Meanwhile Tom falls in love with a gorgeous girl named Gwen Allen (Jean Harlow , though Louise Brooks was offered this role in this film) . Tom turns more stubborn and cruel against those who either disagree with him or cross him . Even as a gangster's accidental death threatens to spark a bloody mob war . Classic gangster movie contains top-notch performances , unpretentious familiar drama, thrills , fast-paced , action , and a shocking final . Magnificent James Cagney in the title role as a snarling and ominous gangster . Edward Woods was originally hired for the lead role of Tom Powers and James Cagney was hired to play Matt Doyle, his friend . However, once director William A. Wellman got to know both of them and saw Cagney in rehearsals, he realized that Cagney would be far more effective in the star role than Woods, so he switched them . Very good support cast formed by known actresses who subsequently would have an important career as Jean Harlow , Joan Blondell and Mae Clarke including her infamous grapefruit scene that caused women's groups around America to protest the on-screen abuse of Mae Clarke . As several versions exist of the origin of the notorious grapefruit scene, but the most plausible is the one on which James Cagney and Mae Clarke agree: the scene , they explained, was actually staged as a practical joke at the expense of the film crew, just to see their stunned reactions ; there was never any intention of ever using the shot in the completed film , filmmaker Wellman, however, eventually decided to keep the shot, and use it in the film's final release print . Atmospheric and appropriate musical score , Scorsese says that Wellman's use of music in the film influenced his own first gangster picture, Mean Streets (1973) . Wellman was an expert in all kind of genres as Gangster, drama , Film Noir , Western and adept at comedy as he was at macho material , helming the original ¨ A star is born ¨(1937) (for which he won his only Oscar, for best original story) and the biting satire ¨Nothing sacred¨ (1937) , both of which starred Fredric March for producer David O. Selznick . Both movies were dissections of the fame game, as was his satire ¨Roxie Hart¨ (1942), which reportedly was one of Stanley Kubrick's favorite films. During World War Two Wellman continued to make outstanding films, including ¨Ox-Bow incident¨ (1943) and ¨Story of G.I.Joe¨(1945), and after the war he turned out another war classic, ¨Battleground¨ (1949). In the 1950s Wellman's best later films starred John Wayne, including the influential aviation picture ¨The hight and the mighty¨ (1954), for which he achieved his third and last best director Oscar nomination. His final film hearkened back to his World War One service, ¨The Lafayette squadron¨ (1958), which featured the unit in which Wellman had flown . He retired as a director after making the film, reportedly enraged at Warner Bros.' post-production tampering with a movie that meant so much to him . ¨The Public enemy¨ , rating : Well worth watching , above average ; the picture will appeal to classic cinema buffs and James Cagney fans . It ranked #8 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Gangster" .
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83 minutes of Cinematic Bliss
J. Wellington Peevis9 August 2003
Larger than life classic that chronicles the life of a street hustler turned crime lord in prohibition Chicago, based loosely on the various antics of the Irish mega-hoodlums, O'Bannon and Moran. While we may never literally create a time machine, these old movies give you the miracle of observation at least of what life was once like. Sadly many of the old films have been destroyed through neglect, so the pickings are very slim. Public Enemy is one of the best old movies available. For only the sheer pleasure of seeing what all the fuss was about in Cagney and Harlow, it's worth a viewing. Director Wellman creates some extremely lasting images you won't want to miss, and it almost makes me think of the original Frankenstein for that reason. The final sequence especially is a dramatic example of lasting imagery in film, quite an unforgettable experience. If you like Godfather, Scarface, Goodfellas, and who doesn't, you owe it yourself to watch what may be the patriarch of the entire genre. Interestingly, while the film has a campy disclaimer demonizing the subject matter and mandating public action in order to address the evils of organized crime, it's rather obvious that the producers new exactly what they were really doing by making a film like this. Brutal as some of the action is, Cagney's charisma glorifies the gangster as much as Coppola, Scorsese and all the rest glorify modern organized crime. See it for yourself!!!
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"I Ain't So Tough."
bkoganbing16 December 2005
The Public Enemy, along with Little Caesar and Scarface, set the standard for the gangster film. Though films about crime had been done in the silent era, sound was what really ushered in this particular genre. I've always maintained that musicals and gangster films are the only two movie genres that date from the sound era. Of course this film about a young man's rise to prominence in the bootleg liquor business during Prohibition made James Cagney a star. Interestingly enough Edward Woods was originally supposed to be Tom Powers and Cagney was cast as best friend Matt Doyle. After some footage had been shot, Director William Wellman scrapped it and had Cagney and Woods exchange roles. Stars get born in many and strange ways. Some critics have complained about Beryl Mercer's part as Cagney's mother, saying she's overacts the ditziness. I disagree with that completely. In the prologue section with Cagney and Woods as juveniles, there is a two parent household. The boys have a stern Irish father and a mom who'd spoil them if she could. The older kid who is later played by Donald Cook has more the benefit of the two family home and both influences. That and the fact that World War I leaves him partially disabled prevents him from thinking about the gangster trade. Cagney misses the war and is spoiled by mom. I knew a woman like Beryl, in her own world with a stream of nonsensical chatter to keep out the reality of things. Her portrayal for me rings true. Oddly enough in The Roaring Twenties Cagney is a veteran who enters the rackets because he can't get a legitimate job and its easy money. Both The Public Enemy and Little Caesar are short films, edited down to the essentials so the viewer ain't bored for a minute. Warner Brothers sure knew how to do those gangster flicks.
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A Thug's Life
lugonian1 May 2004
THE PUBLIC ENEMY (Warner Brothers, 1931), directed by William A. Wellman, is a prime example of how a motion picture produced in the early sound era can still hold up today. A worthy follow-up to the studio's most recent gangster outing, LITTLE CAESAR (1930), that elevated Edward G. Robinson to stardom, THE PUBLIC ENEMY brought forth another new screen personality, James Cagney, displaying a different kind of movie thug: rough, with guys who betray him; tough, with women who get on his nerves or play him for a sucker; and ready, to succeed by socking, punching, slapping or killing anybody who gets in his way. His only soft spot for his mother, but far from being a "Momma's Boy." Through its passage in time element starting in 1909 Chicago, THE PUBLIC ENEMY plays in the biographical mode, displaying the origins of its main characters, Tom Powers and Matt Doyle, as boys (Junior Coughlan and Frankie Darro), leading to their adult lives (James Cagney and Edward Woods) as tough thugs. Tom Powers character, regardless of his fine upbringing, indicates he was born ... to be bad. He has a brother, Mike (Donald Cook) who knows of his activities, while their mother (Beryl Mercer) may suspect but overlooks his actions. As things start going well for Tom and Matt in the bootlegging racket under Paddy Ryan's (Robert Emmett O'Connor) leadership, Scheiner Burns, a rival gang leader, attempts on taking over Ryan's establishment, leading to more gun-play, especially for Tom, quick on the trigger, only to have things backfire on him. If not the most famous of the early gangster films, THE PUBLIC ENEMY is one of the most revived. Quite frank in its actions, and adult for its intentions, much of the then so- called violence occurs out of camera range. Yet, whatever is displayed on film is something not to forget. These days, there isn't a year that goes where THE PUBLIC ENEMY isn't televised. Whenever a topic pertaining to THE PUBLIC ENEMY arises, it's not the story that immediately comes to mind, but Cagney's individual scenes consisting of squirting beer from his mouth into the bartender's face; Tom's cold-blooded killing of Putty Nose (the man who let him take the rap for a crime) while playing his last song on the piano; and Tom's off-screen shootout with a rival gang in a fancy nightclub, stumbling out in the pouring rain saying to himself, "I ain't so tough." All these scenes pale in comparison until reaching its most chilling climax ever recorded on film. Yet, the one where Tom, at the breakfast table, pushes a grapefruit into his mistress Kitty's (Mae Clarke) face, never has such a brief scene have such an long impact. Other than Clarke's famous few minutes of grapefruit glory, Mia Marvin (whose face resembling Maureen "Marcia Brady" McCormick from TV's 1970s sit-com, "The Brady Bunch") playing a slut named Jane, is one who gets her face slapped after getting Tom drunk enough to seduce him. The second billed Jean Harlow doesn't get any abuse from her leading man as did the other two actresses receiving no screen credit for their trouble. While Harlow's performance has been criticized as one of her worst, chances are her portrayal might have been intended to be enacted in that manner. Harlow's Gwen Allen is an uneducated blonde floozy with her gift for attracting men. What possibly hurts the film is not Harlow herself, but the inane dialog she recites, ("Oh Tommy, I can love you to death!". Joan Blondell's limitations on screen is mostly one involving her relation with Tom's pal, Matt. Edward Woods, whose has almost equal screen time with Cagney, is a Hollywood name very few recollect today. Several documentaries profiling gangster films have indicated Woods as the initial star of THE PUBLIC ENEMY with Cagney assuming the subordinate role, with director Wellman seeing an error with the casting and wisely having these actors switch roles. While a smart move on Wellman's part, he failed to switch roles on the boy actors who portrayed them, especially a keen observer noticing Frankie Darro playing Matt, not Junior Coughlan playing Tom, performing in the Cagney manner. Donald Cook, Beryl Mercer and Robert O'Connor appearing in subordinate roles, are essential with their parts, but never outshine Hollywood's finest movie thug, a/k/a Public Enemy, James Cagney, whose tougher roles, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938) and WHITE HEAT (1949) were years into his future. With limited underscoring, the theme song, "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," like Cagney and his grapefruit, has long become associated with THE PUBLIC ENEMY. THE PUBLIC ENEMY, which has become one of the first major movies from the Warner Brothers library to be distributed on video cassette (consisting mostly of prints from slightly edited reissues), and later on DVD (with either edited or restored prints), can be seen quite frequently on Turner Classic Movies. It might not have the realistic violence as any crime film of today, but THE PUBLIC ENEMY presents itself as a gangster drama that doesn't have to be all blood and guts to become successful. Good acting, fine story, interesting characters supplied with tight action is all what is needed to make a good movie. Being a natural talent, Cagney makes THE PUBLIC ENEMY all it's worth. (***)
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the prototype for gangster films to follow
jagfx3 September 2000
"The Godfather" trilogy and "Goodfellas" owe a lot to this gangster film that preceded them both by at least fifty years. "The Public Enemy" was perhaps one of the first mob films that followed the rise and fall of a gangster and showed not only the implication of his actions on himself but on his family as well. The film is far from perfect. The first ten minutes of the film in which we are shown a glimpse into the characters' childhood are jerky at best and feel as if much of it was left on the cutting room floor. The movie's incessant fast pace thereafter don't allow for much to sink in, but Cagney saves the day with an absolutely fiery performance. Not one person is spared from his bubbling anger and ferocious delivery. Finally, the ending will leave you gasping - even by today's standards. "The Public Enemy" is a must see for any true fan of the mob movie genre.
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An Original Ethnic Mobster.
Robert J. Maxwell12 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Compared to Mervyn LeRoy's "Little Caesar", "The Public Enemy" is a little more -- well, I don't want to use the word "sophisticated" because it's anything but that. It's more -- developmental. Yes, that's the word. Little Caesar's character begins and ends as an adult gangster. Tom Powers (Jimmy Cagney) is first introduced as a young boy, hanging around with his pal Matt Doyle (Edward Woods), being whupped for stealing by his policeman father. The stern old man uses a razor strap. Maybe today it looks like child abuse to some people but it was probably common enough at the time. My mother used to break Kochloevels over my back. In any case, such punishment did neither Tom Powers nor myself any good since we both turned out wicked. Tom and Matt grow up into young men who are hoodlums in the employ of Puttynose, who teaches them the tricks of the trade, an Irish Fagin, but he breaks his promise and skips out on them when they need his help. Years later, an unforgiving Tom wreaks his revenge on the pathetic Puttynose. Then Tom and Matt are taken under the wing of Paddy Ryan, and finally Samuel "Nails" Nathan, both of whom treat our protagonists well. In fact, I rather liked Nails. He's cheerful, generous, and loyal. I mean, considering that he's a gangster, a thief, and a murderer. When Nails is thrown from his horse and killed, Tom and Matt sensibly shoot the horse. There's a sub-plot involving some dames the two guys pick up in a speakeasy. Matt marries his moll but Tom gets tired of his (Mae Clarke) and puts finito to their affair by shoving a grapefruit in her face. Mr. Nice Guy. Tom then meets Jean Harlow and she seems to fall for him, although his interest in her is rather more glandular than anything else. She doesn't make herself available in the sense that his other girl friends have and Tom is tearing his hair out, uttering hoarse, goaty cries: "A guy could go screwy from this." Her part is kind of small and Tom never does get it on with her. When a rival gang kills his friend Matt, Tom picks up two pistols, barges into the gang's hangout, and shoots it out with them, severely wounded in the process. He's visited in the hospital by his Ma, his moralistic brother, and his sister-in-law, and he asks them to forgive him. Doesn't do him any good. The rival gang kidnaps him from the hospital and delivers him to his home, full of new lead. Like "Little Caesar," this film gives us many scenes and characters that were to become icons. On their first big job, a friend of Tom's and Matt's, Loopy Louie, is shot by the cops and we see the wake in Louie's parlor, with a matronly immigrant mother moaning, "He was always a good boy." To a parking valet, Tom snaps, "Hey, watch it. Dat car's got gears. It ain't no Ford." As for the performances, Edward Wood was famously intended to play the lead before the roles were switched, with Cagney taking the role of Tom. It was a good decision. Matt is likable but a little wooden, whereas Cagney sizzles on screen. Jean Harlow's every line is laugh worthy. Like Cagney, she was from New York but her accent here stops just short of a parody of British. "I cahn't." And, "Me neyether." Also, she looks, well, BIG in this movie, maybe because she's paired with Cagney, but it's not just that she's as tall as he is but that she's zoftig too, a bit more broad of beam than has been noticeable in her other films. The censors were beginning to impose their will on the film industry, so every shooting takes place off screen and there is virtually no blood. I guess the code was not yet firm enough in place to prevent the presentation of a tailor as a homosexual. When Cagney is being fitted for his first suit, he tugs at his waist and tells the guy to leave plenty of room in their. "Here's where you need extra room," says the tailor, squeezing Cagney's upper arm, "Just feel that muscle." Cagney minces away from the encounter. Not that there's any suggestion of homosexual bonds between Tom Powers and Matt Doyle. They're just friends who grew up together. You must see this movie if you haven't already. It was one of three that set the genre firmly on its feet in the early 1930s, the others being "Little Caesar" and "Scarface." Look at it this way. Without these films, we might never have had "The Godfather."
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Cagney Makes This One Of The Best Classic Era Crime Movies Ever
ccthemovieman-121 October 2006
Once again, Jimmy Cagney struts his stuff.....and makes a big name for himself in the very early part of his acting career. He clearly demonstrates that he is a man who take over any scene and dominate it, and the film. Hollywood found this out in making this film. It is said that Cagney's role was originally much smaller in here but he was so good the script was changed to give him the starring spot....and his career took off from there. Speaking of billing and stardom, Jean Harlow gets second billing in this film but really has only a bit part; Blondell gets fourth billing has only a few lines. The story is a fast-mover and the movie is over in less than an hour-and-a-half. The cinematography in here is excellent and DVD really brings that out. The famous "grapefruit scene" with Cagney shoving the fruit in Mae Clark's face wasn't that big a deal back then and the scene happens so fast you almost miss it. For me, a highlight of the show was simply the facial expressions on Cagney. At the end of the movie, as he stands in the pouring rain getting ready to go in and kill people, his expression is downright scary - a very powerful scene. The ending of this movie is memorable, too. In all the film may be dated but it still very, very watchable and one of the great crime movies of all time.
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