James Cagney

February 20, 2009




I am a huge James Cagney fan, so I will try very hard to contain the gushing and make this a straightforward post.

In showbusiness, triple threat is usually defined as singing-dancing-acting. Many people don't realize that Cagney was a triple threat. He could act, dance, and, yes, sing. It was definitely a talk-singing a la Rex Harrison, but it was entertaining and melodic. Well, he was actually better than Rex Harrison. He could carry a tune, he just didn't seem to vary the pitch at all. Anyway, my point is that the tough gangster crime-pic icon was actually a lot more talented than most people give him credit for. He won an Oscar for his performance in Yankee Doodle Dandy, the movie where he showed his triple threat talent. In the part of George M. Cohan, Cagney danced, sang and acted his way into the hearts of moviegoers in a way they had never seen him before. It has become sort of cliche, but the deathbed scene where he says "my mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you" brings me to tears every time I see it-- even after I've watched it over 20 times already.

Virginia Mayo once remarked that Cagney deserved an Oscar for his performance in White Heat, but that the Academy would never give an Oscar for a gangster picture. I completely agree with her. Yankee Doodle Dandy was not Cagney's only outstanding performance. Just about every movie he made should have been considered for an Oscar. Even in his very first starring role, in The Public Enemy, Cagney gives a stand out performance, filled with the vigor, energy and quick fire dialogue that he became famous for.

Although he and Bette Davis were both assigned to this film as punishment, and both hated the movie, who can resist their sparring, wittiness and comedic flair in The Bride Came C.O.D.? I really wish Cagney had made more comedies because this film shows how adept he was in the genre. Another lighthearted Cagney film that I love is The Strawberry Blonde. I originally saw One Sunday Afternoon, the previous version with Gary Cooper and Fay Wray, before seeing this version with James Cagney and Rita Hayworth. The real attraction in the film is actually Olivia DeHavilland, who plays a really feisty, bold turn of the century girl.

Finally, one of my favorite Cagney movies: The Picture Snatcher. It's one of the few really, really good 1930's hidden gems that's actually on DVD. I just watched it again recently and was reminded of how brilliant James Cagney is when he's playing in really fast paced movies. It's part comedy, part drama, part gangster picture, part racy-precode. Fans of the always wonderful Ralph Bellamy will be thrilled to know that he has a large part in the movie. Genevieve over at Classic Film Oasis just wrote a great bio of Ralph Bellamy- you can read it here.

So I hope I did okay without gushing all over the place. Friday is the one month anniversary of my blog, so I am going to have some special stuff in my next post- make sure you come back Saturday morning and take a peek!
(I always post these in the wee small hours of the morning, so even though it's actually Friday already, I'm considering THIS post as Thursday night, and my NEXT post will be Friday night- the 1 month anniversary...)

12 comments:

caseykoester said...

Ahh Jimmy. He's a swoon inducer if there ever was one... It irks me too that he didn't get an Oscar for White Heat.
I adore The Picture Snatcher. Those pre code movies have some amazing repartee.

ps- love the sketch. Love how you did the hair!

John Hayes said...

Nice enapsulation of Cagney, & as caseykoester said, a wonderful sketch. I'm with you 100% on "The Bride Came C.O.D."

Millie said...

That's an amazing sketch!

Have you ever seen, "One, Two, Three"? That's a great Cagney!

Genevieve said...

Hey, thanks for the link! : )

Cagney is just one of those tough guys that you can't help loving. Even when he's sticking a grapefruit in some lady's face, I can't help thinking he's got a heart of gold underneath it all.

Graciebird said...

What a lovely sketch!

And j'adore Cagney as well. And I really couldn't care less if that Yankee Doodle Dandy line is "cliche"; I always say that if I'm lucky enough to win an Oscar, I would so use that line!

I've only seen The Public Enemy and Dandy, but I am just dying to see White Heat.

Kate Gabrielle said...

casey- "Those pre code movies have some amazing repartee." You bet! That's the main reason I love them so much :)

John- Thanks!!

Millie- Thanks! I haven't actually seen One, Two Three yet, but I'll check it out since you recommended it :)

Genevieve- Thank YOU for giving Ralph Bellamy some love! He deserves it! And they really did pick guys to play gangsters that you could root for-- really, who doesn't want Edward G Robinson, Cagney or Bogart to get away their cimes?

Graciebird- Thanks! You HAVE to see more of his films!! You're missing out on so much!

Robby Cress said...

Great drawing. James Cagney is an incredible performer but I didn't get interested in Cagney until after college when I met producer A.C. Lyles. A.C. was one of Cagney's close friends and would always share many stories about Cagney. It was then I became interested in Cagney. A.C. is an interesting guy also and someone that many people aren't aware of so I did a post about him on my blog a couple weeks ago.

Kate Gabrielle said...

That's interesting, I'll have to head over to your blog & check it out :)

Keith said...

You've got a great blog. I love it. I definitely plan to check it out more. I had to comment on this post. I'm a big James Cagney fan. While he was awesome in the gangster pics, he could do so much more. I don't think he often gets the credit and attention he deserves for that. Cool post. I enjoyed it. Cheers!

Orlando said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Orlando said...

In "Picture Snatcher" you can find the great Alice White -the response of First National to Clara Bow- in a "gold digger" style role, and the beautiful Patricia Ellis.

And in a small role is Sterling Holloway, most remembered as the voice of numerous Walt Disney films.

This is my favorite precode...

Kate Gabrielle said...

Keith- Thanks, I'm a huge Cagney fan, too. I really love his gangster pictures, but I do wish he wasn't pidgeon holed by history into JUST being a gangster. In one of his later films that I love, These Wilder Years, he plays such a complex person it's incredible.

Orlando- Alice White is great in that movie! And I just adore Sterling Holloway. The movies just wouldn't be good if it wasn't for all of the really great character actors like him. One of my favorite precodes too :)