The American actor and film director James Cagney was known for his deadpan comic timing and distinctive vocal style. He won major awards for his performances in a wide range of films. His signature style was evident in movies like ‘The Public Enemy’ and ‘Ragtime’.
James Cagney was a leading film star of the 1930s. He was known for his tough guy character. As a child, he danced and acted on the streets of New York.
After the death of his father in 1918, he dropped out of school and began work. His father was a bartender and amateur boxer. The family lived in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Cagney was a thoughtful observer of the city life. He became interested in farming as a young man. In addition to his career as an actor, he also founded a dance school for professionals.
In 1921, James Cagney met Frances Willard. They married a year later. Their marriage would last for 64 years.
James Cagney left Warner Bros. several times during his career. For a while, he worked for an independent film company. Eventually, he formed his own production company, William Cagney Productions. This company distributed movies for United Artists.
Cagney’s career spanned more than three decades. By the end of his career, he had been awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom. During World War II, he made moral-boosting troop tours.
He was nominated for the Academy Award three times. Among his other awards were a Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute and a Kennedy Center Honor.
James Cagney died of a heart attack at the age of 86. He was buried at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York. Many of his films were listed on the National Film Registry.
Cagney was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild. He was its president from 1942 to 1944. HUAC investigated him in the late 1930s.
He was an avid philanthropist. He helped establish the 100-acre Martha’s Vineyard farm. He was a major player in the Hollywood liberal movement.
Cagney was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1974. In 1980, he received the Kennedy Center Honors.
Aside from his acting and dancing, James Cagney was also a writer. His work is cited in “The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives” and in the film “Johnny Come Lately”.
He also had an interest in soil conservation. He visited different doctors throughout his life.
James Cagney’s Ragtime is a well crafted and slickly shot film, one of the many James Cagney films of his long and illustrious career. He is teamed up with Mary Steenburgen and Ethan Phillips. The story revolves around two families, one white and one black. One is involved in the Evelyn Nesbit trial, the other is a narcissistic rich kid who wants nothing more than to have his cake and eat it too.
In the context of a feature film, the plotline of Coalhouse Walker, a black man who is forced into service as a fireman, and his white girlfriend Sarah, isn’t a bad thing. However, their journey to redemption isn’t exactly a smooth ride. This is despite the fact that Coalhouse supposedly is one of the luckiest men and women of his time.
It is a very good “costume” film. For one, it is filmed in the boroughs of New York and Atlantic City, not to mention the oomph factor of a good cast. And, of course, the best part is that it has a believable set of characters. On the down side, it’s a little on the long side. With a running time of just under four hours, it’s a bit of a schlep to get to.
The film may not be the best that you’ve seen, but it does the best it can. A good cast of characters, a believable set of characters, and a decent script make for a winning combo. Although the film has a few too many apologies, it has enough of them to keep your interest level up. Among the stars are Ethan Phillips, Mary Steenburgen, James Cagney, and a few others. Unlike his heyday, Cagney was able to get to work in a timely fashion. Despite his age, he was able to pull off a performance in “Ragtime” that would have rivaled the best actors. Nevertheless, this is a movie to watch, and if you are in the mood for some schmoozing, you won’t be disappointed.
‘The Public Enemy’
The Public Enemy, starring James Cagney, is the American pre-Code gangster film that followed the career of a young man who becomes a bootlegger. He shoots a gang member and then feels the heat of the cops. His family is torn apart as he tries to maintain his connection to them.
The movie was released in 1931, and it was one of the first gangster films to come out during the era. It also set the pattern for many gangster movies that followed.
The Public Enemy was directed by William A. Wellman, who specialized in multiple genres. He won an Oscar for the film A Star Is Born in 1937. Several years later, he adapted the rags of Scott Joplin for a movie.
In the era of John Dillinger and Al Capone, the gangster was an acceptable headline hero. After the Great Depression, get-rich-quick schemes seemed to be the only way to stay afloat. However, the gangster movie was quickly losing popularity.
When the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America put a Production Code in place, most major films were sanitized. Cagney’s character still needs a little more room in his inseam. And his mobster still maims victims. But his denouement is as chilling as The Mummy.
“The Public Enemy” is based on a novel by Kubec Glasmon and John Bright. Walon Green wrote the screenplay, which was based on the classic western The Wild Bunch.
It also stars Joan Blondell, Edward Woods, Donald Cook, and Beryl Mercer. This is one of the greatest ensemble casts in film history, and Cagney’s performance was praised by Orson Welles.
The Public Enemy was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. During the movie’s initial release, the Times Square theater showed it 24 hours a day.
While the movie was a huge hit, it was criticized by civic groups for romanticizing gangsters. Although three scenes were cut due to the Production Code, they were restored on DVD.
One of the most recognizable scenes in the film is when James Cagney slams a grapefruit into the face of Mae Clarke. The ex-husband of Clarke’s character would buy a ticket before the scene went onscreen.
Last gangster role
James Cagney’s last gangster role came in the film Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. His character was based on Edward G. Robinson’s character in Little Caesar. Although he did not get to play his character as high as Paul Sorvino’s caporegime Paul Cicero in Goodfellas, his final words are a legendary cinematic moment.
In the gangster film “The Public Enemy” (1931), Cagney played the character of a mobster who murders and maims victims. The success of the film led to several similar parts.
Cagney also appeared in “Penny Arcade”, a musical on Broadway in 1929. He and Joan Blondell were invited to Hollywood for screen tests. However, Cagney decided to take a role in a non-gangster film instead.
One of Cagney’s first roles was as a chorus girl in a female impersonation act. After that, he went on to work in musical shows, dance, and vaudeville. At the age of 19, he drifted into vaudeville and dance.
A successful stage and film actor, Cagney went on to make over 60 films over three decades. He became a major figure in Hollywood and helped shape the genre.
He received the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award in 1974. Afterward, he retired to a farm in Dutchess County, New York. He was 86 when he died in 1980.
While he didn’t return to the movies for two decades, Jimmy Cagney’s influence on culture continues today. Over the years, he continued to receive praise and honors. Among other awards, he received the Kennedy Center Honors.
He was one of the few stars of the day who was willing to take a walk from the studios. For a time, he formed his own production company. Even after retiring, he continued to be active in New York theater and the arts.
James Cagney has influenced countless filmmakers and is still a huge cultural icon. In 1980, he was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors.
Sadly, Cagney’s career as an actor ended in 1961. Nevertheless, he did return to his former profession for a brief stint in 1980. It was a reunion with old friend Pat O’Brien.