It's the early days of the F.B.I. - federal agents working for the Department of Justice. Though they've got limited powers - they don't carry weapons and have to get local police approval ... See full summary »
Tom Powers and Matt Doyle are best friends and fellow gangsters, their lives frowned upon by Tom's straight laced brother, Mike, and Matt's straight laced sister, Molly. From their teen-aged years into young adulthood, Tom and Matt have an increasingly lucrative life, bootlegging during the Prohibition era. But Tom in particular becomes more and more brazen in what he is willing to do, and becomes more obstinate and violent against those who either disagree with him or cross him. When one of their colleagues dies in a freak accident, a rival bootlegging faction senses weakness among Tom and Matt's gang, which is led by Paddy Ryan. A gang war ensues, resulting in Paddy suggesting that Tom and Matt lay low. But because of Tom's basic nature, he decides instead to take matters into his own hands. Written by
Because of the famous grapefruit scene, for years afterward when dining in restaurants, fellow patrons would send grapefruit to James Cagney, which--almost invariably--Cagney would happily eat. See more »
As Tom and Matt leave the fur warehouse after their abortive robbery attempt early in the film, Matt is clearly seen throwing down his gun on the roof of the building; but after they slide down the drainpipe and run to freedom through the alley both Tom AND Matt throw their guns onto a nearby roof, even though we have already seen Matt discard his. See more »
Tom as a boy:
[Tom grabs his pants just as his father is about to spank him]
How do you want 'em this time, up or down?
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Most films made in the early 30s are entertaining only as period pieces that give us a glimpse into another era. Often they are so dated that they've become unintentionally funny.
The Public Enemy is a totally different thing. It is such a well-crafted and honest film that it still has the power to shock us. The violence in this film is every bit as brutal as anything in a modern "gangsta" flick, even though some of it takes place off-camera.
Based on the stills I had seen of the grapefruit scene, I thought it would be a light-hearted moment. In fact, it's anything but. In that encounter, Cagney's character exhibits a total disregard for others that is downright chilling.
The final scene is extremely disturbing. You won't forget it.
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