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TCM Greatest Gangster Films Collection: James Cagney [2 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Special Features

  • Closed Captioned

Synopsis

Homeless Hare
A Day at Santa Anita
G-Men
In G Men, Warner Bros. "bad boy" James Cagney plays James "Brick" Davis, a young lawyer whose education has been financed by soft-hearted racketeer McKay (William Harrigan). When Cagney's best pal, detective Eddie Buchanan (Regis Toomey), is killed in a gangland shooting, James decides to become a G-Man. Though scrupulously honest, Davis is looked upon with suspicion by his fellow agents because of his association with the crooked McKay. He proves he's a "good guy" when his former girlfriend, Jean Ann Dvorak, now the wife of mobster Brad Collins (Barton MacLane), tips him off to a "Little Bohemia"-style gangster hideaway. Jean later sacrifices her own life to help James rescue his new girl, nurse Kay McCord (Margaret Lindsay), from the vengeful Collins. Based on Gregory Miller's book Public Enemy No. 1, G-Men was reissued in 1949, with an added prologue featuring David Brian as an FBI trainer who advises his students not to laugh at the old-fashioned costumes and slang in the 1935 film; seen today, it is Brian's superfluous opening comments that seem hopelessly dated, while the film itself is as exciting and entertaining as ever. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

City for Conquest
There are three key characters in Anatole Litvak's filmization of Aben Kandel's novel City for Conquest, as opposed to the six or more in the book -- but the real star, to a large extent, is New York City and its entire population. For purposes of the movie, however, the dramatic arc is linked to James Cagney, as honest, unpretentious truck driver Danny Kenny, whose life is involved with two other people -- his kid brother, Ed (Arthur Kennedy), a gifted musician trying to survive in the rough-and-tumble world of New York's Lower East Side, and Peggy Nash (Ann Sheridan), the neighborhood girl from the Lower East Side whom he's loved, one way or another, since he was a kid. Danny is happy doing what he does, driving a truck, but when Ed's scholarship is cut in half, he reluctantly takes an offer of a boxing match to raise the cash he needs, going into the ring under the fighting name "Young Samson." At about the same time, Peggy -- who loves to dance -- has her head turned by Murray Burns (Anthony Quinn), an ambitious but sleazy aspiring professional dancer. Eventually Peggy goes into partnership with Murray and is ultimately driven by her own ambition to leave Danny after she accepts his marriage proposal. By now, he's getting up in the boxing world, and in his bitterness over losing Peggy he accepts a bout for the world's welterweight championship. He's not overmatched as a boxer, but the money involved in this fight is just too big for it to be honest, and Danny is left all but blinded when his opponent's handlers slip resin dust onto his gloves. Danny is left seemingly a shell of a man, though he's content with his lot in life as far as it goes. He doesn't want any special attention or favors from anyone; the only thing he would like, though he's too proud to admit it, would be for Peggy to come back. But by now her dancing career with Murray has fallen apart, and she's too tortured by guilt, over the sequence of events she helped start, to come near Danny. It falls to Ed, who has never given up composing, to express the inexpressibles that each of these characters feels through his music. His first major classical work is a symphony ostensibly about New York City, which he conducts in its premiere at Carnegie Hall; but it's also about Danny and his life, and his dreams. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

Each Dawn I Die
Otis Ferguson has said of Each Dawn I Die that "the story is of the kind you would have to see to disbelieve." And to be sure, the film is nothing more than a sampler of '30s prison-film conventions. But with the brilliant acting by James Cagney and the fast-paced and hard-edged direction of William Keighley, the film clatters past like an express train. Cagney plays Frank Ross, an innocent newspaperman who is railroaded into prison by a corrupt district attorney. In prison, he meets hardened-con Stacey (George Raft). Frank, at first, doesn't want to associate with Stacey and the other prisoners, but trapped in the hellhole prison, he more and more turns into a bitter con. Finally granted a hearing from the parole board, Frank pleads his innocence, but the parole board is headed by Grayce (Victor Jury), the man responsible for his imprisonment, and his parole is denied, and Frank becomes more hardened and embittered. By this point, Stacey has befriended him and agrees to help Frank prove his innocence. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi

The Old Grey Mayor
So You Think You're Not Guilty
Each Dawn I Crow
Stage Fright
Service With the Colors
Buddy the Gee Man
White Heat
In later years, James Cagney regarded White Heat with a combination of pride and regret; while satisfied with his own performance, he tended to dismiss the picture as a "cheap melodrama." Seen today, White Heat stands as one of the classic crime films of the 1940s, containing perhaps Cagney's best bad-guy portrayal. The star plays criminal mastermind Cody Jarrett, a mother-dominated psychotic who dreams of being on "top of the world." Inadvertently leaving clues behind after a railroad heist, Jarrett becomes the target of the feds, who send an undercover agent (played by Edmond O'Brien) to infiltrate the Jarrett gang. While Jarrett sits in prison on a deliberately trumped-up charge (he confesses to one crime to provide himself an alibi for the railroad robbery), he befriends O'Brien, who poses as a hero-worshipping hood who's always wanted to work with Jarrett. Busting out of prison with O'Brien, Jarrett regroups his gang to mastermind a "Trojan horse" armored-car robbery. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Detouring America
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