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The Public Enemy (1931)

A young hoodlum rises up through the ranks of the Chicago underworld, even as a gangster's accidental death threatens to spark a bloody mob war.

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 win. See more awards »
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
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Edward Woods ...
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Beryl Mercer ...
Robert Emmett O'Connor ...
Paddy Ryan (as Robert O'Connor)
Murray Kinnell ...
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Storyline

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 Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Crime | Drama

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Details

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Release Date:

23 April 1931 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Beer and Blood  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(Brunswick Radios Used Exclusively)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

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 »

Goofs

Opening the scene where the building is bombed we see two individuals standing up in an open car preparing to throw the bombs that will destroy the building. They throw the bombs and as the car pulls away both of the bombs have bounced off the building and can be seen rolling in the street immediately behind the car as it accelerates out of the frame and the building blows up anyway. See more »

Quotes

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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Connections

Referenced in Wind at My Back: My Dog Pal (1996) See more »

Soundtracks

Maple Leaf Rag
(1899) (uncredited)
Music by Scott Joplin
Played offscreen on piano
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

 
Powerful portrait of the rise and fall of a nasty gangster extraordinarily performed by James Cagney
9 June 2012 | by See all my reviews

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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