29 December 2005

"I ain't so tough."

Confession: before tonight, I had never watched a James Cagney movie. Apparently, I've been missing something.

The Public Enemy (1931) is, for those as don't know, one of the all time classic gangster movies. And now I know why. It's all Cagney, really, with happy nods to other great cast members (Jean Harlow at the beginning of her career, among others) and to the director, William Wellman. But it's all Cagney, really. I was just watching one of the extras on the DVD, and Martin Scorsese said that essentially modern movie-acting began with Cagney in that role. He's chilling, a psychopath who is all the scarier for being very, very human. Damn, the guy was good.

Note for my sister: Scorsese spends some time talking about the film's brilliant score, which isn't, as he notes, really a score.

There's a lot of great camera work to enjoy, too. I particularly love the way that Wellman has killings take place out of frame. There's a great scene when Tom and Matt go Putty Nose. We see Matt at the door, here the gunshot, and then Tom strolls into the frame relaxed as can be. It ends up being more disturbing than many a blood-filled scene could hope to achieve. And that constant sense of stuff take place off the edges of the screen, just out of sight, lends an air of menace.

You know, in general, I have been woefully ignorant of 1930s cinema. But I'm having a fine time rectifying that. They could make some movies in those days, damn howdy they could.

I'm now all hot to see The Little Caesar, which was Edward G. Robinson's big breakout movie, also from 1931. It's in my queue, and may get bumped to the top pretty soon. Great. But next up are Thief of Baghdad and The Bicycle Thief. My education continues!


Blogger rie said...

ooo, score talk. yummy. i've added the title to my queue. of course, if i want to see it before next dec., i have to move it up a bit on the every-growing list. (-;

1/08/2006 5:05 PM  

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