Saturday, 6 June 2009

The Public Enemy (William Wellman, 1931)

Mike Powers: Do you think I care if there was just beer in that keg? I know what's in it. I know what you've been doing all this time, how you got those clothes and those new cars… You murderers! There's not only beer in that jug. There's beer and blood - blood of men!

James Cagney and Jean Harlow star in this cornerstone gangster film which will influence the whole genre.
Tom Powers (James Cagney) and his brother Mike (Donald Cook) follow different ways from an early age. Mike, who will serve the country in the First World War, will have a daytime job and follow his studies in the evenings. Tom and his friend Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) are two young teenagers who are stepping into criminal life stealing small items. As they are getting into adulthood they become bootleggers in the prohibition era.
Their reckless life brings them wealth, fun and women as Kitty (Mae Clarke) or Gwen Allen (Jean Harlow). However Tom is getting tougher – in a famous scene he squeezes a grapefruit into Kitty’s face – and he is going the hard way. He has become an evil hoodlum who even executes a horse in revenge.
The bootlegging business turns into gangster war with Tom falling wounded in the gutter. It seems the suitable end of the film – which would be similar to other endings in later noir movies as in He ran all the way.
However Tom is taken to hospital and later he will “come back” home, an impressing scene with a following moral message…

Tom (stumbling wounded under the rain): I ain't so tough