03 January 2008

The Public Enemy (1931)

How does an unqualified critic go about reviewing a film that is a genre-defining classic? If I knew the answer to that question, this post wouldn't be a problem. I'm no film critic, and I don't pretend to be--and that's just as well, because I don't find film critics to be particularly endearing. Nevertheless, I've a few comments on 1931's The Public Enemy.

This, of course, was the film that not only made James Cagney famous, but also had the effect of typecasting him as the tough guy. This was not without good reason--Tom Powers (our protagonist) is not the kind of fellow one wants to make angry, especially if there's a grapefruit near at hand.

The grapefruiting of Mae Clark (who was not credited for playing the part of Kitty in the film, small though it may have been) is one of the two iconic scenes from the film, the other being Tom's climactic "homecoming" at the end. The latter is a bit more dramatic than the former, to make a slight understatement.

Jean Harlow and Joan Blondell play the respective love interests of Tom Powers and Matt Doyle, Tom's childhood friend and partner in crime, and played by Edward Woods. Personally, I think Doyle came out ahead on this one--to me, Jean Harlow always looks sort of like an Irishman in drag. Very profound, I know.

Ultimately, I have only one minor gripe about the movie--if this is Public Enemy, where the hell is Flavor Flav?

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