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Five members of a teen-age gang, including leader Jimmy Smith, are sent to the State Reformatory, presided over by the melodramatically callous Thompson. Soon, Patsy Gargan, a former ... See full summary »
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W.S. Van Dyke
When a movie theater usher is fired, he takes up with criminals and finds himself quite adept at various illegal activities. Eventually though, the police catch up with him, and he runs to hide out in Los Angeles. There he stumbles into the movie business and soon rises to stardom. He has gone straight, but his newfound success arouses the interest of his old criminal associates, who are not above blackmail... Written by
Ken Yousten <email@example.com>
For the scene where Dan Quigley hauls Myra Gale across the apartment floor by her hair, and throws her out the door, James Cagney taught his co-star Mae Clarke an old stage trick. When Cagney grabbed hold of Clarke's hair (holding her by the top of her head), Clarke reached up and grabbed Cagney's wrist with both hands. This put her weight on Cagney's wrist, instead of on her hair. Clarke then held on to Cagney's wrist, screaming as he dragged her across the room. See more »
After the robbery of the robbery of the wealthy woman's home the paper says a maid was struck and seriously injured; and later in Cagney's office they're still talking about a maid who screams. Later when the guy who actually hit comes back scared; he's says the butler died. See more »
Now, listen kid, we can take that money and go down to Mexico City and have a swell time. No cops. No worries. Just you and me lappin' up good liquor all the time. Going to bullfights. We might even take a trip to South America if we get tired of the tamales. What do you say?
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Look out, world! Jimmy Cagney's coming to Hollywood and whether they use bullets or make-up the con artists haven't got a chance, in this raucous send-up featuring a New York crime boss who lands himself where the real action is on a theater marquee.
Cagney is a wise guy named Dan Quigley who can't make it as a movie usher, so he raises his sights from lavatory dice games to breaking into rich folks' homes with the help of a nasty gang. When that goes bad and the gang leaves him flat, Quigley finds a new line in Hollywood, first as an extra, soon after as a "Famous He-Man of the Screen." But what will happen when the old gang shows up for a piece of the action?
The marquee in lights near the start of the film advertises someone called "The Prince Of Pep." He might as well be Cagney in this streamlined star vehicle, written entirely to showcase his fast patter and easy charm. Cagney's so good they don't even bother to build a coherent film around his character, and it hardly matters.
If you want to see a great Cagney film, there are perhaps a couple dozen better candidates. But if you want to see why the guy clicked so hard in the days of early sound, and still packs a punch 80 years later, this should be on your short list.
Cagney's lines here are priceless. To a dog being held by a theater manager who just fired him: "Listen, Fido, this guy's got a wooden leg. Try it sometime!"
To a group of card sharps who just cleaned him out: "I think I'll stick to checkers."
To the same group, after he's figured out their scam: "You kick back with my fifty bucks, or I'll fold your joint like an accordion!"
Just seconds later, he proposes a partnership. "You got a sweet racket here. Maybe I can show you a few new wrinkles."
"Lady Killer" was made just before the Hays Code was seriously enforced, which makes for interesting viewing. Reviewers here have already pointed out a scene when we see Quigley sneak Mae Clarke's character Myra a peck on the breast. The film takes even greater advantage of the liberal mores then still in effect by letting Quigley get away with his crimes. Sure, he goes straight, sort of, but only because he finds a better racket than potentially homicidal B&Es. There's no moment of Quigley coming to regret his wicked past, as censors would have required just months later.
That makes for a more entertaining Cagney vehicle, but a somewhat disjointed film. Director Roy Del Ruth keeps things moving quick, but in odd directions in tone, turning "Lady Killer" from a semi-serious gangster story to a genially goofy Hollywood satire. In his DVD commentary, Drew Casper calls "Lady Killer" a "shyster satire." It might also be called a "crooked comedy;" no one is on the level, whichever side of the law they're on.
So in Hollywood, we see Quigley break big after really slugging an extra in a mock prison break scene, and further his path toward stardom by faking fan letters. It's shallow stuff, but fun, especially as it all plays so fast. Other than the star, pacing is "Lady Killer's" ace in the hole.
Clarke should have graduated from the grapefruit league with this performance. She and Cagney resume their fireworks from "Public Enemy," this time with even more outrageous stunts, but Clarke, here the first- billed female, does wise work making sure we enjoy her comeuppance. Even her catty asides to Cagney, or the way she shamelessly plays with her hair while shaking him down for (more) dough, is on par with Barbara Stanwyck's star-making wickedness.
But make no mistake, "Lady Killer" is Cagney's baby, and he makes it work, despite the tone shifts and the odd title (Quigley's not a killer himself, and doesn't play with women's affections). You root for the guy despite his crookedness, and that's all that matters in the end.
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