In 1921 Dublin, the I.R.A. battles the "Black & Tans", special British forces given to harsh measures. Irish-American medical student Kerry O'Shea (Don Murray) hopes to stay aloof, but saving a wounded friend gets him outlawed, and inexorably drawn into the rebel organization under his former professor Dr. Sean Lenihan (James Cagney), who has "shaken hands with the devil" and begun to think of fighting as an end in itself. Complications arise when Kerry falls for a beautiful English hostage, and the British offer a peace treaty that is not enough to satisfy Lenihan.Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Although only ever referred to as "The General", Sir Michael Redgrave's character was meant to be Michael Collins. This was often done in Hollywood movies, taking liberties with historical events so that revered figures were not tainted by any controversy resulting from artistic license. Another example is In Harm's Way (1965), where Henry Fonda was Chester Nimitz, but never named as such in the movie nor the credits. Like Collins, "The General" personified a realist statesman in the mold of the American "Founding Fathers", motivated by his desire for a better future, rather than just rage like James Cagney's character. Like Collins, the General agreed to negotiate a treaty with the British to give Ireland (except for Ulster) self-rule within the British Empire (similar to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and South Africa). Like Collins, he makes the case that it will give them the "freedom to become free" without the need for continued bloodshed. See more »
Toward the end of the movie, Jimmy Cagney throws a hand grenade under the British armored car, but the subsequent explosion emanates from inside the vehicle on the upper side, while the undercarriage is completely unscathed. See more »
'Tis a small thing to do for Cathleen O'Shea, whose son once showed Eileen O'Leary a very great kindness.
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An extremely restrained movie (never over-glorifying the Irish rebels or disparaging the British, except the Black & Tans who are essentially SS stormtroopers in this movie), if Shake Hands with the Devil makes any missteps it's exonerating its hero from cold-blooded murder and then funneling him into a cliched romantic subplot. It is a shame the protagonist didn't get more to work with. This is one the few times I wish a film was actually longer.
Predictable tropes aside, its a well-written movie with some amazing moments of cinematography. James Cagney delivers an incredible and understated performance as a freedom fighter driven mad by patriotism and his own desire for moral cleansing, one of the best roles of his career. Cyril Cusack and Richard Harris shine in supporting roles.
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