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>
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More Story Than Runtime
I doubt that any other film of the time had as many boisterous crowd or mob scenes as this one. So Cagney better be a human dynamo or he'll be overwhelmed by sheer numbers, whether it's crowds in big watering holes or lynch mobs hurtling down streets. It's Gold Rush Frisco of the 1850's. On the low end of town is the Barbary Coast, about as sinful and noisy as waterfronts get. On the high end of town are the swells and well-dressed folks, and by golly, never the twains shall meet. That is, until Cagney's ambitious low-born Bat Morgan schemes his way into both worlds and criminally networks them. Seems he's good at everything, except winning the hand of the classy Miss Barrat (Lindsey) who won't buck the social distance lying between them. So what will happen once his contrived empire starts to sprout holes.
The flick's typical WB from the period—fast, tough, and not too sentimental. Cagney's Cagney, a pint-sized dynamo if ever there was one. He's about as dominating a character as Hollywood has had and perfect for the part. The plot-line itself is not too plausible, but the spectacle does compensate. I wish more time was spent on the details of Bat's scheming and social climbing. After all, that was Cagney's movie appeal-- his lower class drive against all odds.
On the other hand, catch Ricardo Cortez as the one truly slick crook of the bunch. But what about Solly's (Stone) relationship with the domineering Bat. They're buddies, sure, but catch Solly's expressions when the two get close to one another. Too bad about the facile ending which is typical Hollywood of the Code period. Had the movie been made a pre-Code two years earlier, I wonder if the ending would have been the same.
All in all, the storyline is pretty disjointed, really needing a longer runtime for its networking and class themes to develop. There's also the anti-lynching element that doesn't really grieve— after all, the victims are hardly innocent. However, it's really crowd atmospherics and Cagney, that's worth catching up with. Anyway, I expect every extra in Hollywood got a welcome WB payday, along with a chance to shout their lungs out.
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