The Public Enemy



(1931, William Wellman)

The movie that made James Cagney a star. His dynamic performance makes up for the cookie-cutter characters left over in this film–only Leslie Fenton in a small role as “Nails” Nathan can compete with Cagney’s chops. I’m guessing if any other actor tried, they got breakfast squashed in their face (see above).

Violent and sexually suggestive for its time. The Hays Code was in effect, but skirted by this film.


(Coincidentally, this is also the same rating for Public Enemy’s album Fear of a Black Planet. What’dya know.)


Posted on March 21, 2008, in Film log and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Both The Public Enemy and Fear of a Black Planet should be bumped up to five, if ya ask me.

    Cagney was originally cast as Matt, the sidekick, and the interminably boring Edward Woods was supposed to play Tom — the roles were reversed. Which is why, at the beginning of the movie when they show them as kids, Tom is lanky and tall, and Matt is short and squat. It didn’t take William Wellman long to figure out he had it backwards. Cagney just explodes off the screen, leaving Woods quailing in his wake.

  2. You’re probably right about FoaBP.

    Robert Osborne related the story of the recasting prior to TCM showing it. Yeah, Wellman would’ve had to be blind to miss Cagney’s talent. Sometimes, the stars just align.

  3. Was just searching around to see who else had been talking about this picture, and found your post.

    They recently showed The Public Enemy on TCM, and I had to show this movie to a friend who had never seen it (I had also never seen it the whole way through).

    Just posted the Youtube version of the flick on my site the other day. You can check it out here if you like.

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