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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
When Myra (Mae Clarke) is reading from the California travel brochure, she gets a worried look on her face when she reads "Grapefruit." This is a reference to The Public Enemy (1931) (which also stars James Cagney and Clarke) where Cagney's character pushes a grapefruit into the face of hers. 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 »
"Lady Killer" represents a combination of talents Hollywood will never see again. There is fast talking James Cagney, who starts the movie as a dice playing, gum chewing usher who makes wise guy, but funny, comments to everyone. In Cagney's opening scene, he just makes it to a count out of the 25 ushers, held on the roof of the movie theater they work at. All wear Warner Bros. uniforms, including a cap with the WB logo on it. As Cagney advances in life, he becomes a partner in a gambling operation. One of his confederates slugged too hard a maid and almost kills her during a home robbery, another criminal activity Cagney's gang is involved in. Cagney tells the confederate (played by a snarling Leslie Fenton), what does he think, the police are dumbbells. Dumbbell was a favorite word of screenwriter Ben Markson, who used it to good advantage in another movie he co-wrote, "Gold Diggers of 1933."
Roy Del Ruth does his usual super job, cramming a ton of action into 76 minutes. There is one scene,where the cab of Mae Clarke's character is stopped at one of those old traffic devices, which has two signal vanes, one marked stop, and the other go. The stop signal goes up, another of Cagney's partners,Douglas Dumbrille, happens to be in the adjacent cab, he gets into Clarke's. He tells her "things are plenty hot in New York, I just jumped my bail and beat it out here by plane," to Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, Cagney is being questioned by the LA police, who previously picked him up at the train station on a New York warrant. Cagney tells the police chief, he went West for the climate, on account of his asthma. This scene represents the first mention I know of asthma in a mainstream movie. Later, after Cagney is sprung loose, Brannigan, the cop (played by Robert Elliot, almost typecast to cop roles in the 30s) who first pulled him in at the train station, tells him that if he doesn't find a job, he will be picked up as a "vag" (for vagrant) and get 30 days in jail.
When you look at this scene, notice the outline of the Venetian blinds on the office wall, and the dark shadows falling on the the faces of the Chief, Brannigan and Cagney's character. This scene, and the subsequent scene of Cagney trying to keep a low profile in a pool hall, unshaven and furtive, look as if they were from a film noir movie, only these scenes were made more than 12 years before the film noir cycle started.
The scenes showing Cagney working as a movie extra show how movies were made in the early 1930s, at least according to Roy Del Ruth. There is a scene of Cagney as an Indian chief on an imitation horse riding in front of a back projection screen, the movie director shouting, with a heavy European accent, "Ride, That A Boy!" Later, on a 15 minute lunch break, box lunch in hand, Cagney identifies himself to his future girlfriend, Margaret Lindsay as a Chief with the name, said in Yiddish, Pain In The Ass. I could be off in the translation, but Cagney used a Yiddish phrase.
The movie plot has one unexpected connection to real life. In 1939, there was a New York gangster named Greenbaum, nicknamed "Big Greenie." As I recall, from reading Burton Turkus's book, "Murder, Inc." years ago, Greenbaum fled to the West Coast, where he worked as an extra in movies while avoiding Lepke's killers. Greenbaum knew too much, and Lepke eventually managed to have "Big Greenie" killed.
"Lady Killer" was made in 1933 fast, by great talents. I saw it playing the laserdisc of the movie, part of the double laserdisc of James Cagney movies that Image released in 1992. The second movie on the LD set, "Blonde Crazy," made in 1931, is good also, but the advances made in movie making in two years are really something, comparing the two movies.
There is only one slight flaw in "Lady Killer." In every other pre-Code movie I saw from Warner Bros., when someone reads a telegram, you see the telegram message on screen, the telegram made by the prop department. When the LA police chief shows a telegram to Cagney, explaining the situation, he tells him New York authorities asked him to hold Cagney's character. You never see the actual telegram message, Warners usual practice then, a practice not usually followed by other studios. Maybe Warners' prop department did prepare a fictitious telegram but movie director Roy Del Ruth thought it looked "fakey."
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