The Public Enemy (1931) Poster

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"I Ain't So Tough."
bkoganbing16 December 2005
The Public Enemy, along with Little Caesar and Scarface, set the standard for the gangster film. Though films about crime had been done in the silent era, sound was what really ushered in this particular genre. I've always maintained that musicals and gangster films are the only two movie genres that date from the sound era.

Of course this film about a young man's rise to prominence in the bootleg liquor business during Prohibition made James Cagney a star. Interestingly enough Edward Woods was originally supposed to be Tom Powers and Cagney was cast as best friend Matt Doyle. After some footage had been shot, Director William Wellman scrapped it and had Cagney and Woods exchange roles. Stars get born in many and strange ways.

Some critics have complained about Beryl Mercer's part as Cagney's mother, saying she's overacts the ditziness. I disagree with that completely. In the prologue section with Cagney and Woods as juveniles, there is a two parent household. The boys have a stern Irish father and a mom who'd spoil them if she could. The older kid who is later played by Donald Cook has more the benefit of the two family home and both influences. That and the fact that World War I leaves him partially disabled prevents him from thinking about the gangster trade. Cagney misses the war and is spoiled by mom.

I knew a woman like Beryl, in her own world with a stream of nonsensical chatter to keep out the reality of things. Her portrayal for me rings true.

Oddly enough in The Roaring Twenties Cagney is a veteran who enters the rackets because he can't get a legitimate job and its easy money.

Both The Public Enemy and Little Caesar are short films, edited down to the essentials so the viewer ain't bored for a minute. Warner Brothers sure knew how to do those gangster flicks.
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As a tsunami, nothing was able to stop Cagney once he was aroused, and no one even thought to try
Nazi_Fighter_David8 May 2005
"Public Enemy" brought two things to the screen: the little tough guy, fast-talking, unscrupulous gangster characterization by James Cagney which was to follow him throughout his entire screen career, and the grapefruit scene…

Though "Public Enemy" created the Cagney image, he had already appeared in two other gangsters films for Warners, as a murderer prepared to let someone else pay for his crime in "Sinner's Holiday," and as a double-crossing hoodlum in "Doorway to Hell."

"Public Enemy," however, was a bigger-budget production, directed by William Wellman, and it contained all the elements of success… It is the story of two brothers who become Chicago booze barons in the Twenties... One was Cagney, the other Edward Woods…

It is sometimes claimed that the story of "Public Enemy" is based on that of "Little Hymie" Weiss, leader of the North Side Chicago gang after the murder of Dion O'Banion by the Capones in 1924… What is more likely is that the Cagney characterization is based on "Little Hymie"; the plot itself is pure fiction…

When Cagney, in his striped pajama, sat opposite Mae Clarke at breakfast and decided he had had enough of this boring broad, he wasted no time… He picked up half a grapefruit and planted it full into Clarke's face… It was a piece of screen action which has lasted down the years as the ultimate in violence from the gangster to his moll…

Of course, it isn't – it just seems that way… Since then gir1s have been slapped, kicked, beaten up, run over, shot, stabbed and raped, all in the tradition of mobster violence…

But at the time this scene was daring, and the more daring because it was totally unexpected… We remember Mae Clarke in "Public Enemy," yet forget that Jean Harlow was in it, too… There may have been good reason… The New York Times, reviewing the film in 1934, commented: "The acting throughout is interesting, with the exception of Jean Harlow, who essays the role of a gangster's mistress."

Cagney made violence and a life of crime magically seductive, and "Public Enemy" made him Warners' number 2 gangster, second only to Edward G. Robinson
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Grapefruit anyone?
jotix10028 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This was the film that made James Cagney a star. In a surprise move, Warner Brothers made him switch roles with Edward Woods, and the end is history. James Cagney, who made a career out of playing tough guys, appeared as Tom Powers, a young man who loved the company of all the Irish wise guys in his area. The film starts with a message from the studio about one is going to witness as it wanted to point to a social problem, and it ends with a sort of disclaimer about what was seen a social issue at the core of the society of those years.

Tom Powers rises to the top of the crime scene when Prohibition went into effect. There was a lot of money to be made smuggling liquor and having pals like Paddy Ryan, who controlled the trade. Helped by his inseparable Matt Doyle, they make their mark as people that could get away with what the crimes they were committing. Tom Powers inspired violence because he was ruthless in the way he wanted to do things.

The film, made before the arrival of the infamous Hays Code, gets away with showing the morality of the gangster on the scene and the women they went after. Tom's relationship with Kitty, and the cruelty he shows toward her, is something that the creators got away with. Tom's involvement with Gwen Allen, the beautiful blonde, is full of sexual suggestions.

William Wellman, proved he was the right man for this movie. He brought the best in James Cagney and the rest of the cast. Unfortunately, the dialog sounds dated. The heavy make-up favored in those days looks funny of the men, especially. Mae Clarke, who is not even credited in the film, has one of the best moments of her film career in the movie. James Cagney and Edward Woods do some excellent work together. The sexy Jean Harlow is lovely to look at in this film as it brings her beauty to new heights. Donald Cook, Joan Blondell, and the rest of the supporting cast contribute to make one of the best films of the gangster genre.
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Cagney Makes This One Of The Best Classic Era Crime Movies Ever
ccthemovieman-121 October 2006
Once again, Jimmy Cagney struts his stuff.....and makes a big name for himself in the very early part of his acting career. He clearly demonstrates that he is a man who take over any scene and dominate it, and the film.

Hollywood found this out in making this film. It is said that Cagney's role was originally much smaller in here but he was so good the script was changed to give him the starring spot....and his career took off from there.

Speaking of billing and stardom, Jean Harlow gets second billing in this film but really has only a bit part; Blondell gets fourth billing has only a few lines.

The story is a fast-mover and the movie is over in less than an hour-and-a-half. The cinematography in here is excellent and DVD really brings that out.

The famous "grapefruit scene" with Cagney shoving the fruit in Mae Clark's face wasn't that big a deal back then and the scene happens so fast you almost miss it.

For me, a highlight of the show was simply the facial expressions on Cagney. At the end of the movie, as he stands in the pouring rain getting ready to go in and kill people, his expression is downright scary - a very powerful scene.

The ending of this movie is memorable, too. In all the film may be dated but it still very, very watchable and one of the great crime movies of all time.
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One of the Great Early Gangster Films
gavin694218 January 2012
A young hoodlum (James Cagney) rises up through the ranks of the Chicago underworld, even as a gangster's accidental death threatens to spark a bloody mob war.

The script is loosely adapted from "Beer and Blood", an unpublished book from John Bright and Kubec Glasmon on the life of Dean O'Banion, Al Capone's biggest rival. We see a variety of references to Irish mobsters, including Samuel "Nails" Morton, who was famously killed by a horse. Just like the real-life mobster, Samuel "Nails" Nathan of the film is avenged when the horse is shot.

This is, of course, Cagney's breakout role. And what better role for him? Prior to "Public Enemy", he had been a hoofer on the New York stage. This experience really solidified him as a notable actor, as he had control over his movements that others might not have. Interestingly, he was originally cast as the good guy -- the last minute switch probably saved this movie as well as marked the decision that would catapult Cagney to stardom. (Some scenes were even filmed with Cagney in the other role before director William Wellman realized his mistake.)

As for how the dance background helped his acting, critic Lincoln Kirstein noted Cagney "has an inspired sense of timing, an arrogant style, a pride in the control of his body and a conviction and lack of self-consciousness that is unique. No one expresses more clearly in terms of pictorial action the delights of violence, the overtones of a subconscious sadism, the tendency towards destruction, toward anarchy, which is the base of American sex appeal." Beautifully said.

Playwright Robert Sherwood expressed how Cagney's character was the ideal anti-hero. He wrote that Cagney "does not hesitate to represent Tom as a complete rat -- with a rat's sense of honor, a rat's capacity for human love; and when cornered, a rat's fighting courage. And what is more, although his role is consistently unsympathetic, Mr. Cagney manages to earn for Tom Powers the audience's affection and esteem."

In its own time, the film was thought of as a bit too violent, and there are a few moments that might still be considered shocking today. However, with the changing norms between the 1930s and today, what really stands out is the misogyny that barely earned a mention upon release. The most memorable scene, of course, is Cagney smashing a grapefruit into Mae Clarke's face. But his abusive language to her, suggesting his desire to drown Clarke, is hard to take and still remain empathetic with the gangster.

There are very few films that can be said to be really inspirational to the gangster film. This one, Howard Hawks' "Scarface" (1932) and "Little Caesar" (1931) are at the top of that short list. If it is not evident enough from watching the film itself, the special feature interview of Martin Scorsese should cement the deal. Author TJ English feels this is "perhaps the most influential gangster flick in the history of American movies", but that may be overstating it a little.

Some credit must be given for "Public Enemy" succeeding and remaining a top film, however. As strange as it sounds, there were at least 25 gangster movies in 1931 and at least 40 in 1932. So being among the one or two remembered almost a century later is actually quite a feat. Even William Wellman, who directed a staggering nine gangster films between 1928 and 1933 is really only remembered for this one.
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An Original Ethnic Mobster.
rmax30482312 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Compared to Mervyn LeRoy's "Little Caesar", "The Public Enemy" is a little more -- well, I don't want to use the word "sophisticated" because it's anything but that. It's more -- developmental. Yes, that's the word. Little Caesar's character begins and ends as an adult gangster. Tom Powers (Jimmy Cagney) is first introduced as a young boy, hanging around with his pal Matt Doyle (Edward Woods), being whupped for stealing by his policeman father. The stern old man uses a razor strap. Maybe today it looks like child abuse to some people but it was probably common enough at the time. My mother used to break Kochloevels over my back. In any case, such punishment did neither Tom Powers nor myself any good since we both turned out wicked.

Tom and Matt grow up into young men who are hoodlums in the employ of Puttynose, who teaches them the tricks of the trade, an Irish Fagin, but he breaks his promise and skips out on them when they need his help. Years later, an unforgiving Tom wreaks his revenge on the pathetic Puttynose. Then Tom and Matt are taken under the wing of Paddy Ryan, and finally Samuel "Nails" Nathan, both of whom treat our protagonists well. In fact, I rather liked Nails. He's cheerful, generous, and loyal. I mean, considering that he's a gangster, a thief, and a murderer. When Nails is thrown from his horse and killed, Tom and Matt sensibly shoot the horse. There's a sub-plot involving some dames the two guys pick up in a speakeasy. Matt marries his moll but Tom gets tired of his (Mae Clarke) and puts finito to their affair by shoving a grapefruit in her face. Mr. Nice Guy. Tom then meets Jean Harlow and she seems to fall for him, although his interest in her is rather more glandular than anything else. She doesn't make herself available in the sense that his other girl friends have and Tom is tearing his hair out, uttering hoarse, goaty cries: "A guy could go screwy from this." Her part is kind of small and Tom never does get it on with her. When a rival gang kills his friend Matt, Tom picks up two pistols, barges into the gang's hangout, and shoots it out with them, severely wounded in the process. He's visited in the hospital by his Ma, his moralistic brother, and his sister-in-law, and he asks them to forgive him. Doesn't do him any good. The rival gang kidnaps him from the hospital and delivers him to his home, full of new lead.

Like "Little Caesar," this film gives us many scenes and characters that were to become icons. On their first big job, a friend of Tom's and Matt's, Loopy Louie, is shot by the cops and we see the wake in Louie's parlor, with a matronly immigrant mother moaning, "He was always a good boy." To a parking valet, Tom snaps, "Hey, watch it. Dat car's got gears. It ain't no Ford." As for the performances, Edward Wood was famously intended to play the lead before the roles were switched, with Cagney taking the role of Tom. It was a good decision. Matt is likable but a little wooden, whereas Cagney sizzles on screen. Jean Harlow's every line is laugh worthy. Like Cagney, she was from New York but her accent here stops just short of a parody of British. "I cahn't." And, "Me neyether." Also, she looks, well, BIG in this movie, maybe because she's paired with Cagney, but it's not just that she's as tall as he is but that she's zoftig too, a bit more broad of beam than has been noticeable in her other films.

The censors were beginning to impose their will on the film industry, so every shooting takes place off screen and there is virtually no blood. I guess the code was not yet firm enough in place to prevent the presentation of a tailor as a homosexual. When Cagney is being fitted for his first suit, he tugs at his waist and tells the guy to leave plenty of room in their. "Here's where you need extra room," says the tailor, squeezing Cagney's upper arm, "Just feel that muscle." Cagney minces away from the encounter. Not that there's any suggestion of homosexual bonds between Tom Powers and Matt Doyle. They're just friends who grew up together.

You must see this movie if you haven't already. It was one of three that set the genre firmly on its feet in the early 1930s, the others being "Little Caesar" and "Scarface." Look at it this way. Without these films, we might never have had "The Godfather."
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Powerful portrait of the rise and fall of a nasty gangster extraordinarily performed by James Cagney
ma-cortes9 June 2012
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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"The meanest boy in town"
Steffi_P11 January 2012
In the early days of the talkies, a somewhat panicky film industry drafted in players from the theatre in the hopes that they would be the best suited to the new medium. If anything though these stagey hams only added to the awkwardness of those early sound movies. However a couple of years on a new kind of star began to emerge, those with unique voices, full of character, not necessarily realistic but injecting some smart-sounding talk into cinema after the silents.

James Cagney wasn't originally supposed to be the lead in The Public Enemy. He was cast as the sidekick, but director William Wellman soon realised he was the better man for the top job. And it's not surprising that he stood out, despite a lack of experience. It's not deep acting ability (although he would demonstrate that later in his career), it's presence; a raw, captivating charisma. He brings a compelling life to the part of Tom Powers, much as Edward G. Robinson did in Little Caesar six months or so earlier. But whereas Robinson was more of an Al Capone figure, Cagney is more the lean, young street brawler than the cigar-chomping kingpin. The gangster genre had found the perfect actor for another of its archetypes.

Scripted by Kubec Glasmon, John Bright and Harvey Thew, The Public Enemy is at the forefront of the then-popular mob movies, mainly thanks its brutal presentation of gangland. There were plenty of movies in which hoods gunned each other down with far more abandon, but in The Public Enemy the violence is more shocking through its context. The picture begins by showing the protagonists as kids. This was ostensibly to demonstrate the origins of criminality, but by giving us that glimpse of childhood, the later fates of the characters seem all the more grim and tragic. Cagney's doting mother remains a presence throughout the movie to keep this angle going.

William Wellman was ideal for such a project, since it's violence that brings out his inventive side. A little bit of action goes a long way in a Wellman movie. When Donald Cook punches Cagney, Cagney falls and crushes a chair. At other times the director has a bit of nasty business take place off screen, something which only the new sound technology would fully allow, cunningly drawing attention to the wider context. Involving the audience is another trick. For key moments he'll change the angle so that Cagney is almost staring into the lens, bearing down upon us.

And with those piercing eyes, commanding tone and short, sharp movements, Cagney is ideal for such an aggressive visual style. And yet these very strengths would present him with one drawback. As stars began to emerge that seemed so intrinsic to the tones and tropes of one genre, typecasting set in hard. The Public Enemy is an awesome debut for Cagney, but it also formed a constricting mould this intelligent and versatile actor would struggle to break.
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A Thug's Life
lugonian1 May 2004
THE PUBLIC ENEMY (Warner Brothers, 1931), directed by William A. Wellman, is a prime example of how a motion picture produced in the early sound era can still hold up today. A worthy follow-up to the studio's most recent gangster outing, LITTLE CAESAR (1930), that elevated Edward G. Robinson to stardom, THE PUBLIC ENEMY brought forth another new screen personality, James Cagney, displaying a different kind of movie thug: rough, with guys who betray him; tough, with women who get on his nerves or play him for a sucker; and ready, to succeed by socking, punching, slapping or killing anybody who gets in his way. His only soft spot for his mother, but far from being a "Momma's Boy."

Through its passage in time element starting in 1909 Chicago, THE PUBLIC ENEMY plays in the biographical mode, displaying the origins of its main characters, Tom Powers and Matt Doyle, as boys (Junior Coughlan and Frankie Darro), leading to their adult lives (James Cagney and Edward Woods) as tough thugs. Tom Powers character, regardless of his fine upbringing, indicates he was born ... to be bad. He has a brother, Mike (Donald Cook) who knows of his activities, while their mother (Beryl Mercer) may suspect but overlooks his actions. As things start going well for Tom and Matt in the bootlegging racket under Paddy Ryan's (Robert Emmett O'Connor) leadership, Scheiner Burns, a rival gang leader, attempts on taking over Ryan's establishment, leading to more gun-play, especially for Tom, quick on the trigger, only to have things backfire on him.

If not the most famous of the early gangster films, THE PUBLIC ENEMY is one of the most revived. Quite frank in its actions, and adult for its intentions, much of the then so- called violence occurs out of camera range. Yet, whatever is displayed on film is something not to forget. These days, there isn't a year that goes where THE PUBLIC ENEMY isn't televised. Whenever a topic pertaining to THE PUBLIC ENEMY arises, it's not the story that immediately comes to mind, but Cagney's individual scenes consisting of squirting beer from his mouth into the bartender's face; Tom's cold-blooded killing of Putty Nose (the man who let him take the rap for a crime) while playing his last song on the piano; and Tom's off-screen shootout with a rival gang in a fancy nightclub, stumbling out in the pouring rain saying to himself, "I ain't so tough." All these scenes pale in comparison until reaching its most chilling climax ever recorded on film. Yet, the one where Tom, at the breakfast table, pushes a grapefruit into his mistress Kitty's (Mae Clarke) face, never has such a brief scene have such an long impact. Other than Clarke's famous few minutes of grapefruit glory, Mia Marvin (whose face resembling Maureen "Marcia Brady" McCormick from TV's 1970s sit-com, "The Brady Bunch") playing a slut named Jane, is one who gets her face slapped after getting Tom drunk enough to seduce him. The second billed Jean Harlow doesn't get any abuse from her leading man as did the other two actresses receiving no screen credit for their trouble. While Harlow's performance has been criticized as one of her worst, chances are her portrayal might have been intended to be enacted in that manner. Harlow's Gwen Allen is an uneducated blonde floozy with her gift for attracting men. What possibly hurts the film is not Harlow herself, but the inane dialog she recites, ("Oh Tommy, I can love you to death!". Joan Blondell's limitations on screen is mostly one involving her relation with Tom's pal, Matt. Edward Woods, whose has almost equal screen time with Cagney, is a Hollywood name very few recollect today. Several documentaries profiling gangster films have indicated Woods as the initial star of THE PUBLIC ENEMY with Cagney assuming the subordinate role, with director Wellman seeing an error with the casting and wisely having these actors switch roles. While a smart move on Wellman's part, he failed to switch roles on the boy actors who portrayed them, especially a keen observer noticing Frankie Darro playing Matt, not Junior Coughlan playing Tom, performing in the Cagney manner. Donald Cook, Beryl Mercer and Robert O'Connor appearing in subordinate roles, are essential with their parts, but never outshine Hollywood's finest movie thug, a/k/a Public Enemy, James Cagney, whose tougher roles, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938) and WHITE HEAT (1949) were years into his future. With limited underscoring, the theme song, "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," like Cagney and his grapefruit, has long become associated with THE PUBLIC ENEMY.

THE PUBLIC ENEMY, which has become one of the first major movies from the Warner Brothers library to be distributed on video cassette (consisting mostly of prints from slightly edited reissues), and later on DVD (with either edited or restored prints), can be seen quite frequently on Turner Classic Movies. It might not have the realistic violence as any crime film of today, but THE PUBLIC ENEMY presents itself as a gangster drama that doesn't have to be all blood and guts to become successful. Good acting, fine story, interesting characters supplied with tight action is all what is needed to make a good movie. Being a natural talent, Cagney makes THE PUBLIC ENEMY all it's worth. (***)
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"Remember this boys, you gotta have friends."
classicsoncall3 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This movie offers the quintessential Cagney, by the lamp post in the rain, a tense close up that signals the arrival of a star. It was only his third film, but what an impact he had. The movie would be great even if it came out today.

Of course, James Cagney would have plenty of time to polish up his gangster image, his turn as Rocky Sullivan in "Angels With Dirty Faces" is one of my all time favorite characterizations. "The Public Enemy" allows both Cagney and Warner Brothers to sharpen up their story telling skills, but even for 1931, this is a powerful tale. Unlike 'Angels', boyhood friends Tom Powers and Matt Doyle both take up a life of crime as an answer to the easy way up and out of poverty. Told in crisply dated vignettes, the film progresses through the Depression and World War I as it offers Tom (Cagney) and brother Mike (Donald Cook) taking separate paths under the watchful eye of Ma Powers (Beryl Mercer).

The movie has more than it's share of defining scenes, most viewers will identify with the Mae Clarke grapefruit smackeroo, but there are a lot more. The black cat crossing Putty Nose's (Murray Kinnell) path as the boys renew their acquaintance is just the best harbinger of bad luck, culminating in the off screen gunshot that screams revenge. It was Putty who taught the gangster trainees about honor and loyalty, but in reverse. Also, how about the quick exchange of a thousand dollars to bring a race horse to justice for accidentally killing mob benefactor Nails Nathan (Leslie Fenton). The coal chute cover for the rapid staccato of machine gun bullets was another inspired piece of work, culminating in the very real artistry of a skilled shooter taking it out on a cement wall.

Following Tom's confrontation with the Schemer Burns gang, again off camera for the viewer to fill in the blanks, director William Wellman wryly uses Ma Powers to signal his final return home. With strange premonition, she utters - "You're comin' home, aintcha Tommy, to stay?" His arrival is one of the all time shocker finales of film history, a perfect dichotomy between the visual and the sound accompaniment to the strains of "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles". What an ending!

Warner Brothers begins and ends this tale with a warning and an exhortation, signaling the public enemy as not a single man or character but a problem that the public must solve. Seventy five years later they could still be putting the same captions into their films, as each generation finds a way to deal with it's own brand of criminal enterprise. But here in the early days of sound cinema, James Cagney set a high mark that was rarely ever challenged for gangster supremacy on screen.
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83 minutes of Cinematic Bliss
glgioia9 August 2003
Larger than life classic that chronicles the life of a street hustler turned crime lord in prohibition Chicago, based loosely on the various antics of the Irish mega-hoodlums, O'Bannon and Moran.

While we may never literally create a time machine, these old movies give you the miracle of observation at least of what life was once like. Sadly many of the old films have been destroyed through neglect, so the pickings are very slim. Public Enemy is one of the best old movies available. For only the sheer pleasure of seeing what all the fuss was about in Cagney and Harlow, it's worth a viewing. Director Wellman creates some extremely lasting images you won't want to miss, and it almost makes me think of the original Frankenstein for that reason. The final sequence especially is a dramatic example of lasting imagery in film, quite an unforgettable experience. If you like Godfather, Scarface, Goodfellas, and who doesn't, you owe it yourself to watch what may be the patriarch of the entire genre. Interestingly, while the film has a campy disclaimer demonizing the subject matter and mandating public action in order to address the evils of organized crime, it's rather obvious that the producers new exactly what they were really doing by making a film like this. Brutal as some of the action is, Cagney's charisma glorifies the gangster as much as Coppola, Scorsese and all the rest glorify modern organized crime. See it for yourself!!!
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Great film from the beginnings of the gangster-movie-genre
pzanardo26 July 2005
"The Public Enemy" is one of the starting points of the great season of gangster movies, a very interesting work. It is not the story of the rise and fall of some big boss of crime. Tom Powers (James Cagney) and Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) are just small time crooks, and so they remain throughout the movie. Only, they make the big money that the circumstances of prohibition offer to any criminal. Tom is just a semi-illiterate, naturally violent thug. He is not even professional. He kills just out of stupidity or desire of a pointless revenge, that ultimately will severely damage himself. Further evidence of his cheap personality is shown when he instantly falls for the vulgar, tasteless girl Gwen (Jean Harlow). By the way, Harlow looks remarkably unattractive (to our modern eyes, at least). Was it a choice of director Wellmann? Matt is slightly better than Tom, but clearly he has not the guts to cross his mate.

In my opinion a major credit of the film is that it systematically avoids cliché. Neither Tom nor Matt are outcomes of poverty and social injustice. They come from simple but honest, decent and loving families. But they are both bad (that's the word) and they use the freedom and opportunities of their democratic country to make evil.

In "The Public Enemy" we find probably the first instances of the beautiful stylish cinematography and clever camera-work that will become the trade-mark of later gangster and noir movies. Some scenes are unforgettable, like the final one, or that under the rain, or that of Cagney abusing the girl. The brief scene of the killing of the horse is pure cinematic genius.

In the film there are also some naiveness and clumsiness, though. The way Tom undergoes the personality of his good brother is far-fetched. It is not clear why a gangster in a hospital, wounded in a gun-fight, is not under strict police control. The behavior of Tom's boss in the ending is illogical. Moreover, the part where Tom and Matt are kids is too long (we audience are all eager to see Cagney!), and action is a bit scarce for a gangster movie.

"The Public Enemy" was Cagney's breakout film, and really he makes a powerful and accurate job. Actually, a strong acting is provided by the whole cast. The director William A. Wellmann handles the movie with sound talent.

"The Public Enemy" is a beautiful and historically important movie. I recommend it to any cinema-lover
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One of the greatest films of its time
planktonrules25 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is the film that made Jimmy Cagney a star and, along with LITTLE CAESAR and SCARFACE (with Paul Muni, not the modern ultra-violent version), made the gangster genre king at Warner Brothers in the 1930s. And, while there were so many more similar films after it, very, very few came close to it in style, impact and story. In fact, it's Cagney's best gangster film other than WHITE HEAT (his tour-de-force and Film Noir classic from 1949).

A lot of the reason it's such a great film is that since it was a new-style film, it doesn't seem clichéd or derivative. Plus, it takes a strong and unflinching tone that NEVER would have been possible under the stricter guidelines of the Hays Office only a few short years later. Instead of just telling you that Cagney is a heartless jerk or showing him do some "sanitized" violence, he is a cruel man who is vile enough to slam a half a grapefruit in his girlfriend's face--just because he's bored with their relationship. And, he becomes a top gangster by being an enforcer--slugging, stealing and killing his way through organized crime. And, in the very end, the film ends with the best final scene in gangster history (except, once again for WHITE HEAT and its amazing finale).

You can see why this film made Cagney a star--a great film in every way.
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James Cagney Makes an Impression
wes-connors9 December 2007
"The Public Enemy" is not a great film, but it features an absolutely incredible performance, by James Cagney. This was Mr. Cagney's first "starring" role; and he is great throughout. From the time he walks in front of the camera, moving his cap forward, until his final thundering scenes, Cagney is astonishing. The rest of the film is a mixed bag.

For starters, filmmakers showed Cagney (Tom Powers) and co-star Edward Woods (Matt Doyle) as boys Frank Coghlan Jr. (young Tom Powers) and Frankie Darro (young Matt Doyle). Although Mr. Woods is directed to wipe his hand with his sleeve when he first appears, it looks like the boys' roles are mixed up with the adult men - Mr. Coghlan Jr. (a fine performance, by the way) resembles Woods more than Cagney; and, Mr. Darro more closely resembles Cagney. The appearance of the boys' sister and brother ("sissy" Mike) is also confusing.

Of all the strange supporting performances, Jean Harlow (as Gwen) takes the cake (but not the grapefruit). Though second billed, she enters the story late, and leaves abruptly. Ms. Harlow was, like Cagney, on her way to major stardom; but, unlike Cagney, she shows relatively little of her later charms. In fact, Joan Blondell is much more memorable (as Mamie, Matt's girl). And, famously, Mae Clarke receives the halved grapefruit, in the face, from Cagney; it's still a great scene, but "The Public Enemy" has much better scenes - Cagney's visit to the tailor, his walk in the rain, and the film's ending are all superior to the "grapefruit scene".

Watch out for Cagney.

******* The Public Enemy (4/23/31) William A. Wellman ~ James Cagney, Edward Woods, Jean Harlow, Joan Blondell
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Classic Cagney, Otherwise a Curiosity
dougdoepke27 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Two brothers grow up in an urban neighborhood. The good one joins the army, while the other embarks on a life of crime.

Of course, the main reason to catch this otherwise dated gangster flick is Cagney's dynamic performance. And to think he was almost cast in a supporting role. Had that occurred, I expect the movie would be nearly forgotten. Instead, it's treated as a classic, but in my book, that's because of Cagney and little else. Okay, I almost forgot the movie's centerpiece: the grapefruit-in-the-face episode that shocked audiences of the time, but now seems little more than an odd way to force feed a friend.

Still, there's the celebrated Harlow, but it's before her big roles. She does have one big lounging scene in silky white get-up that's eye-catching. But for sheer sex appeal, my money's on big-eyed Joan Blondell who can roll those orbs with the best of the personality girls. Too bad we don't see more of her since she's the real female counterpart to Cagney.

Surprisingly for a pre-Code production, almost all the gun violence occurs off-screen, while, on the other hand, the sexual innuendos are made unmistakably clear. Still, the ending leaves me puzzled. I expected Cagney's final retribution to be shown as an object lesson to audiences. Instead, we get a trussed-up, unrecognizable corpse. It's a dramatic scene, but hardly instructive in a movie whose prologue intends it to be instructive. (Contrast that with the closing scene in Little Caesar {1931}).

Overall, it may be classic Cagney, but the great actor aside, the movie is now little more than a dated curiosity .
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Early gangster thrills
Leofwine_draca7 September 2015
THE PUBLIC ENEMY was an early gangster movie from Hollywood, starring the then up-and-coming actor James Cagney who would become synonymous with the genre in time. It tells of violent and brutal events clearly based on then-contemporary stuff going on, with the obvious exception that the names have been changed in order to make this an entire work of fiction. Of course, enough time has now passed that these days the likes of BOARDWALK EMPIRE are able to present the gangsters and their lives exactly as they were, warts and all.

Still, this is an often gripping little piece of character drama, a neat biopic of the rise and fall of a single man in much the same style as Scorsese's GOODFELLAS. We start off meeting Tom as a kid, recognising the same characteristics that would propel him into notoriety as an adult. Cagney gives an assured performance, even though his anti-hero character is difficult to like or empathise with.

Although tame by modern standards, the direction of THE PUBLIC ENEMY makes certain scenes stand out like the notorious grapefruit moment. There's also a fair amount of brutality and bloodshed that takes place offscreen, but still: this is hard-hitting stuff and a neat precursor to the gangster flicks of the modern era.
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the prototype for gangster films to follow
jagfx3 September 2000
"The Godfather" trilogy and "Goodfellas" owe a lot to this gangster film that preceded them both by at least fifty years. "The Public Enemy" was perhaps one of the first mob films that followed the rise and fall of a gangster and showed not only the implication of his actions on himself but on his family as well.

The film is far from perfect. The first ten minutes of the film in which we are shown a glimpse into the characters' childhood are jerky at best and feel as if much of it was left on the cutting room floor. The movie's incessant fast pace thereafter don't allow for much to sink in, but Cagney saves the day with an absolutely fiery performance. Not one person is spared from his bubbling anger and ferocious delivery.

Finally, the ending will leave you gasping - even by today's standards.

"The Public Enemy" is a must see for any true fan of the mob movie genre.
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Cagney lights up the screen.
Hey_Sweden22 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Legendary gangster picture for Warner Bros. was an appropriate follow-up to "Little Caesar", their first vehicle for Edward G. Robinson. Of course, this film did the same for the dynamic James Cagney, initially intended to have a supporting role. But Darryl F. Zanuck realized a powerful presence when he saw one, and knew Cagney was right for the juicy lead role. Filmed in potent matter of fact style by William A. Wellman, this has a number of scenes that have rightfully become favourites to classic cinema lovers. That grapefruit moment is certainly one that always comes to mind. With some excellent supporting players to help him out, Cagney makes this essential viewing for any fan of this genre.

He plays Tom Powers, obviously destined from the start to be something of a bad boy. Played as a child by Frank Coghlan Jr., he begins as a street hustler until he attracts the attention of big players in the local mobs, such as Paddy Ryan (Robert Emmett O'Connor) and "Nails" Nathan (Leslie Fenton). With his equally seedy friend Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) in tow, he rises to greater prominence, taking no garbage from anybody - men and women alike - and often giving in to a hair-trigger temper.

Throughout this bitterly dramatic story, Cagney will do such things as commit murder (although always offscreen) - against both man and animal - and spit beer in one unlucky bartenders' face. You could tell that this man was a star in the making. The women here will often be faced with his wrath, although the radiant Jean Harlow as Gwen will fare better than others. Beryl Mercer is the mother who suspects Tom is no saint but will accept his gifts of money, Donald Cook is the angry brother Mike who KNOWS he's no good, lovely Joan Blondell is Mamie, the woman who catches Matts' eye, and Murray Kinnell is the ultimately pathetic character "Putty Nose". An uncredited Mae Clarke has the distinction of appearing in THAT breakfast scene.

Far from glorifying the life of this hoodlum, which was a criticism aimed at these early gangster films, "The Public Enemy" does have a chilling but not exactly implausible ending. It's just one of the factors that makes this such a fine viewing.

Eight out of 10.
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Still riveting, over 70 years later!
free101girl6 April 2004
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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Tom's coming home
mercury416 March 2003
I think this is a great James Cagney movie and a great gangster movie. Scarface and Little Caesar were based on Al Capone, but this one takes a new turn. This time the movie's about the North Siders. It is the Irish mob. This movie, I just realized is based loosely on Dion O'Banion. There is only one scene I could think of that was an event in O'Banion's life. The scene with the horse. You'll see what I mean when you see the movie. This movie doesn't go into as much detail with real events as Scarface, but it doesn't matter because everything is perfect. The movie also unintentionally glorifies gangsters again. These characters become guys you like. Especially Cagney's character Tom Powers. I guess that's why there is that introduction at the beginning and even in the end so you don't end up liking them. Nice try censors. I loved the different relationships. Tom's friendship with Matt, his brother, his mother, his first girlfriend that gets a grapefruit in the face (I can never forget that one) and his second girl Jean Harlowe. My favorite part is probably the part where he goes inside a building to take on the Burke mob with two guns. When he gets out you hear screams from inside and Cagney, who is wounded, utters the famous lines, "I ain't so tough." This movie is just perfect. Another scene I never forget is the final scene. I'll call it Tom's Coming Home. After I saw the final scene I was just speechless. I couldn't believe my eyes. It will shock you. A terrible thing happens, but like they say in the very end, The public Enemy is neither a man nor a character, but a problem that we the public must solve. It's almost like they try to convince you that what happened was good. Be sure to see this classic. You won't be disappointed. After renting this movie I like it so much I'm going out to buy it.
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The Life and Death of a Typical Gangster of the 30's
claudio_carvalho26 March 2006
In 1909, Tom Powers and Matt Doyle are best friends and juvenile criminals. Tom's brother Mike is a correct teenager. Along the years, Tom (James Cagney) and Matt (Edward Woods) get older and ranked in criminal scale of their gang leaded by Nails Nathan (Leslie Fenton). When Nails dies in an accident, his gang becomes weaker and is attacked by other criminal groups.

"The Public Enemy" is a great gangster movie, picturing the life and death of a typical gangster of the 30's in a contemporary moment. The texts in the introduction and conclusion of the movie may seem dated today, but show the concern of the director and screenplay writers with the difficult moment that USA was living in 1931. Further, it belongs to the beginning of the sound age, and William Wellman uses this resource magnificently, like for example, when the truck is discharging coal to disguise the shooting. James Cagney is perfect in his trademark role, and this movie is still good in 2006. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Inimigo Público No. 1" ("Public Enemy Number 1")
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Cagney and an iconic scene
SnoopyStyle3 February 2015
It's 1909. Tom Powers and Matt Doyle are young delinquents. Tom's father is a strict cop. The boys join Putty Nose and his gang. As young men, Tom (James Cagney) and Matt (Edward Woods) join to steal from a fur warehouse. It doesn't go well and they kill a cop. Tom's straitlaced older brother Mike is going out with Matt's sister Molly. Mike tries to get Tom out of a life of crime. In 1920, the country passes Prohibition and Paddy Ryan takes the guys into bootlegging business. Mike returns home as a disturbed war hero and bitter at Tom for his beer and blood. Tom gets tired of his girlfriend Kitty (Mae Clarke) and shoves a grapefruit in her face. He gets a new girl Gwen Allen (Jean Harlow) who likes bad boys. After Matt marries Mamie, the guys run into Putty Nose and kill him for abandoning them after the fur warehouse. Tom tries to give money to his mother but Mike throws him out. Their gang gets into a gang war with a rival.

It's a solid gangster movie from Warner Bros. What elevates it is James Cagney and the grapefruit scene. This is the start of Cagney's great career as a gangster tough guy. He just has the persona and the screen presence. And who knows why a scene like the grapefruit turns iconic but it is simply fantastic. It's lightening in a bottle and maybe unexplainable.
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For a movie made in 1931, it packs a pretty hard punch that can still be felt in 2020
snoozejonc5 December 2020
The life and times of prohibition era hoodlum Tommy Power.

Considering when it was made, I enjoyed The Public Enemy as much as any classic gangster movie made over the years. It owes a great deal to the brutality depicted and an awesome performance from James Cagney.

The story follows Tommy as a child from the beer soaked saloons of early twentieth century Chicago to the heights of his power as a notorious Irish mob enforcer. Closely tied in with this is Tommy's family dynamics that show us his strict policeman father, moral brother and unconditionally loving mother.

James Cagney is the mere definition of charisma in the lead role and with physical and verbal power, blows all other actors of the screen. The only other character who just about matches his presence is Jean Harlow, but it isn't through her acting ability, it's her raw sexuality.

The cinematography by the standards of later movies is pretty static, but it makes the best use of the technology available to not only establish the setting well, but create exciting action sequences and craft suspense. There is a heist sequence where some characters boost a tanker full of alcohol for consumption in the speakeasies. This is for me works as well as any action sequence due to the strength of the editing. There is a lot of violence in the film that is unseen and that's what makes it effective and hold up to modern day viewing.

Despite its prologue and epilogue title sequences it very much glamourises the life of organised criminals. The most compelling character by a mile is Tommy, who rises out of poverty through theft, violence and fear. Jean Harlow says "The men I know, and I've known dozens of them, they're so nice, so polished, so considerate. Most women like that type. I guess they're afraid of the other kind. I thought I was too, but you're so strong. You don't give, you take. Oh, Tommy, I could love you to death" For me that says it all.

It has a number of classic scenes, so without spoiling I'll just say opening montage, grapefruit, horse, piano, gun-shop, rain and gramophone, that all linger in the memory which for me is the sign of a truly great film.
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A strong Cagney and some effective touches
sol-30 June 2006
With a message at the beginning of the film noting that it is intended to show criminals as being bad, one can tell from the start that this film is going to propaganda stuff. Propaganda films are not bad in themselves though as long as they are well done, however most of them tend to be heavy-handed, and this oft revered crime classic is no exception. The characters often discuss the protagonist's wrongdoings; there is a typical disapproving family member; there is a mother torn between her morals and her love for her son; there is a moral sidekick too - everything to convince us not to sympathise with the baddie protagonist played by James Cagney. The one problem with this is that Cagney is the most lively and appealing character in the film. He has charisma whilst everyone else plays two-dimensional stereotypes. However, since the film is made with the intent to criticise rather than explore his character, it becomes a bit of a stalemate. A section of Cagney's childhood, played by bland child actors, is thrown in, but nothing else to help us understand his character. Therefore, it is hard to be either critical or sympathetic towards him.

The film has a number of well directed sequences, even if it is lacking in style overall. Take for instance the framing of Putty Nose, Matt and Tom on the stairs to Putty Nose's apartment, or how they blocked later on his room. The shootout near the end with unloading the track is particularly well done too, and the heartbeat on the soundtrack towards the end is very effective touch. Beryl Mercer has some touching moments as Cagney's mother, but for acting, it is mainly Cagney's show, and despite some vision in the film's direction, it is pretty flat overall. Even the grapefruit in the face scene comes off half-hearted. The melodrama does not quite work either; it is all too heavy-handed when Donald Cook gives a speech about beer and blood at the dinner tale. And the pace of the film is lagging, with large dull gaps between the film's exciting scenes since there is little time spent on atmosphere. Some aspects are also left hanging and unresolved, such as the exact role of Jean Harlow in the film. However, while this may not be a masterpiece of cinema, it is still worth watching for the small intermittent virtues.
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Casting the Hoofer, Mr. James Cagney as a young hood; forever changing his career, Film History and the American Public.
redryan6415 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The age old debate of "heredity vs. environment" as being the prime mover of Human Character has long been seen as fodder for film. Long before Eddie Murphy, Dan Akroyd and co. hit the screen in TRADING PLACES (Cinema Group Ventures/Paramount, 1983), the 3 Stooges had already used the premise in at least 3 films.

Mr. George Bernard Shaw's famous play of the same social debate was filmed at least twice; the first being as its own, original title of PYGMALIAN (Gabriel Pascal Prod./MGM, 1938). It featured Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller. The next time around, it was adapted from the Broadway Musical adaption of the original play. As MY FAIR LADY (Warner Brothers-First National Pictures, 1964), with Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison and whole boat load of neato Showtunes!

The Prohibition Ea of the 1920's and Early 1930's proved to be a fertile field for social themes like the Heredity vs. Environment debate. Even those films other than those previously mentioned 2 Reelers starring Messers Howard, Fine & Howard; we saw some really outstanding film.

We were delighted with the Hollywood adaptation of Sydney Kingsley's story of New York City slum life. DEAD END (Samuel Goldwyn/United Artists, 1937), took a day in the poverty and crime stricken tenements, and gave a demonstration of the evolution of a hardened criminal, from cradle to grave.

The second 1930's example is our today's "selection for dissection"; THE PUBLIC ENEMY (Warner Brothers & The Vitaphone Corporation, 1931) gave us a dramatization of the affects of "the Noble Experiment", National Prohibition on the working class.

Often hailed as being the movie that put James Cagney on the Map, THE PUBLIC ENEMY was one of those stories which took many bits and pieces from real life; which, of course, made for a realistic scenario with believable characters. The setting was a poor, predominantly Irish neighborhood, which bordered on the front side of Chicago's Union Stockyards. Having roots there myself, it's safe to say that this would be the old section known as "Canaryville" in Chicago.*

OUR STORY……….WE open with a vast, sweeping montage of people of the neighborhood, working, working, working. Adults and kids alike would go down to the local tavern, returning with Pails (Tavern Pails) filled with beer for the men who worked basically in the nearby "Yards". (But the Police Department, Fire Department and the Chicago Junction Railroad were top choices, also). We are drawn in to the lives of 2 young men, Tom Powers (Mr. Cagney) and Matt Doyle ( Edward Woods).

As young boys (being portrayed by Tom=Frank Coughlan, Jr. & Matt=Frankie Darrow), the two got into plenty of boyish trouble, but they evolved into young street punk gangsters. Joining up with a disreputable youth social club, with a set-up right out of Dickens.

After the local "Fagin", known as "Putty Nose" double crosses them, leaving them out in the street following a burglary gone bad (Putty had set them up with the burglary job, and then when a Beat Cop got killed in the process by the young hoods, old Putty locked his door on them). The two later killed him in his own pad, yet.

The two next hook up with Gangster Paddy Ryan (Robert Emmett O'Connor) who gets them into the muscle end of pushing bootleg beer. This leads to more and more ca$h in their pockets and to some real "nice" girls. Joan Blondell, Mae Clarke and Jean Harlowe all get into the act along the way. (It was Mae Clarke who got the now famous "grapefruit in the face.")

During this time they also got acquainted with some big time organized crime bosses, including Westside Outfit guy, "Nails" Nathan. This led to the famous scene in which Tom Powers first purchased, and then shot the horse that had fatally thrown Nathan while riding the Bridle Path in Lincoln Park.

In the end, they get caught up in Gangland Turf warfare. The film ends with a highly poignant, memorable and hauntingly piercing scene. It involves Tom's mother, a home made layer cake, a recording of Steven Foster's "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" and Tom's homecoming.

As for our original reference to the old "Heredity vs. Environment" argument, we believe we have a prime example here. The boys, after all, have families. In these families all others seem to be law-abiding, hard working citizens. Tom's brother, Mike Powers (Donald Cook) is the most visible and obvious counterbalance to the hoodlumism of his brother, Mike was a veteran of World War I and has worked his way through night school, while working on the street cars; Case Closed.

On February 14th, a Trial was held in the Cook County Circuit Court, in and for the City of Chicago. In a moment we will have the results of that Trial.

In the Case of "Heredity vs. Environment", it is Environment that is found to be the culprit! Is anyone really surprised?

NOTE: * As I said, Canaryville is one subject that I know first hand. Our Dad, Clement J. Ryan (1914-74) was born and raised there during the very period that our story deals with. In 1934, he met a German girl from the Fuller Park neighborhood, immediately east of Canaryville. In 1940, he and the lovely Frauline, Miss Bertha Fuerst, married. Our family lived in Fuller Park at 4402 S. Shields Ave. for about a dozen years before the folks bought a house at 65th & Damen in the West Englewood Neighborhood in 1952.

We still have cousins in the old neighborhood to this very day.
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