Bat Morgan is nearly shanghaied on his way to the gold fields of California. Instead he kills Shanghai Duck and becomes a hero in San Francisco's Barbary Coast. He winds up the rich owner of a saloon and gambling hall and is nearly lynched for a murder he didn't commit.Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The playbill for the opera house gives its name as "McGuire's Opera House," unlike its actual historical name, "Maguire's Opera House." The correct name is given in the newspaper story detailing the opening night incident. See more »
Terrible title for a watchable Cagney vehicle, which seems like so many of his early films, to move at breakneck speed. Like so many of his major roles, there's a duality at play, with his Bat Morgan character initially winning viewer sympathy by fighting back against bullying gangsters in San Francisco's notorious "Barbary Coast" quarter and loyally looking out for his Jewish sidekick, only to be seduced by the lure of power and money to rise to the top of the greasy pole by being bigger and badder than the competition and getting on-side with the corrupt big-time politician Big Jim Daley.
There's love interest too in the prim and proper person of Margaret Lindsay the managing editor of the crusading local paper, whose handsome daily editor Donald Woods serves as uneasy ally, love rival and straight-and-narrow example to Cagney, before invoking one of a series of murdered decent citizens which causes the law-abiding majority to turn to vigilantism in a literally riotous finish with Cagney naturally rejecting the dark-side and even getting the girl.
How true the story here is to the growing pains of the real San Francisco, will have to wait until my next visit to the reference library, but the story suffers from Cagney's character whose rise and fall and rise again is too unlikely to seem credible. You feel a better, more straight-forward film would have concentrated on the zealous editor's story rather than Cagney's flawed hero. There also seem to be just too many characters, incidents and plot developments telescoped into the film's short playing time which the editing can't bring together coherently.
For once I couldn't believe enough in Cagney's character and felt he gives an untypically mixed performance, although the problem here could be in the writing. Better are Lindsay as the posh proprietor who unconvincingly crosses the tracks for Cagney and Woods as the socially conscious but doomed editor Ford. The mob-scene finale calls for the marshaling of large crowds of actors which is accomplished believably and effectively, but in the end, the all-loose-ends-tied up optimistic ending let's down the preceding drama.
For me this was a welcome chance to see the young Cagney in a rarely-screened film. To be fair it's just too fast-paced to really hang together though, better roles, better written and to be honest, better acted, lay ahead for him.
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