Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Gent Plays the MASH Game

Wendymoon over at Movie Viewing Girl challenged the male classic movie bloggers to play this game first started by Ginger Ingenue at Asleep in New York. Anyway, here are my results and to be fair, I placed some jokingly bad things (Edsel, a hellhole in Michigan, Oklahoma, etc) and this is what I ended up with on my one and only try:



The five names I chose were: Ginger Rogers, Gail Patrick, Carole Lombard, Katharine Hepburn, and Myrna Loy. Myrna won. That's eerily accurate, especially if I look at it from the Nora Charles angle: New York City apartment, no kids (Myrna was childless in real life--huzzah!), and I'm a teacher, so it's all falling into place... I hope she and I solve some high-society murder mysteries, too. However, unlike Nick and Nora, Myrna and I will be childless. I also believe that she'll probably dump me for a coffee baron.

I love this picture. Myrna has such a wonderful expression; it's so sly and mischievous. She gives this look in After the Thin Man, when one of Nick's thug friends says to her: "When he [Nick] gives you the sack, let me know, will ya?" To which Nora replies, (out of the side of her mouth): "I certainly will!"

Friday, May 29, 2009

My, My Myrna


I wonder how often the MGM publicity machine used the title of today's post when it came to promoting Myrna Loy (aka "The Queen of Hollywood")? William Powell's nickname for her was Minnie.

Fridays tend to be the least-active days in the classic movie bloggosphere, but since I'm "hard at work" on a couple of Husband and Wife Detectives entries, I thought that this delightful photograph of Nora Charles herself would serve as divine inspiration to me. Ahh...it certainly will. The Marvelous Myrna deserves, and will receive, a full write up in these pages soon enough. But for now, her lovely visage will suffice.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bill Mauldin

" I can't git no lower, Willie. Me buttons is in th'way."


Cartoonist and author Bill Mauldin (1921-2003) is one of my heroes. He's the creator of World War II's weary, sardonic, and just plain tired dogfaces, Willie and Joe. Mauldin's political cartoons won two Pulitzer Prizes (1945 and 1959) and his take on the WWII G.I. was respected by many who served. Mauldin's humor was not the laugh-out-loud kind, but the knowing, gallows humor that made the foot soldier nod his head in weary agreement. His cartoons for Stars and Stripes made Mauldin a hero among the dogfaces and reviled by the brass, including General George S. Patton who threatened to "throw his ass in jail" for "spreading dissent." The cartoonist followed the troops in the horrific Italian Campaign and his art reflected--albeit with a dark humor-- what every infantryman experienced. Mauldin was wounded during combat, a minor wound, and was embarrassed about receiving the Purple Heart. Mauldin's life was a fascinating one, with many ups and downs. I recommend his autobiography, The Brass Ring. Another excellent book of his, Back Home (1947) chronicles in words and cartoons the issues of the day like the housing shortage, the American Legion, the Red Scare, veteran's issues, and racism. Back Home is fascinating reading in that it's a diary of the United States as it was in the two years immediately after World War II.


Today being Memorial Day, I'm reminded of a story Mauldin told in a World War II documentary, America In the 40s, about a Memorial Day ceremony he attended. Mauldin saw an officer standing in a cemetery, speaking to the graves marked with crosses and Stars of David, and the officer broke down and wept, apologizing to the men for getting them killed. Mauldin vowed that after witnessing that moment, he'd never go to another Memorial Day ceremony. He wanted to--and would--remember that moment forever. Mauldin himself was in tears while recalling the tale.

Two movies were made based on the Willie and Joe characters. 1951's Up Front and 1952's Back at the Front. Both films failed to capture the gritty spirit of the comics and were largely played for laughs (AMC aired them many, many years ago and naturally I didn't record them). Mauldin began a short-lived acting career of his own, earning a role in John Huston's Civil War epic, The Red Badge of Courage (1951) and acquitted himself as an actor rather nicely.

Bill Mauldin: "I was born a troublemaker and might as well earn a living at it."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Forgive Me, Ingrid Bergman

I wasn't tagged or anything, but this "180" concept allows me the chance to tell you my tale of woe:


There was a time-- until fairly recently-- that I despised Ingrid Bergman, who is widely considered one of the great actresses and beauties of all time. I certainly didn't see her that way. I found Bergman harsh, shrill, and melodramatic. Couldn't stand her for years--decades. Not her personally, of course, but as an actress she just ground me to a halt every time I watched her in anything. I could tolerate her fleeting presence in Casablanca (1942), but that's mainly because Bogart carried that movie singlehandedly. Oh, Claude Rains gave the performance of a lifetime, too. Anyway, Bergman continued to grate on my nerves and sabotage every classic movie I saw her in. Then, one day, I grew up. So, forgive me Ingrid Bergman, wherever you may be, for doubting your talent, for dismissing your shining brilliance. I toyed with the idea of not thinking you a hack in Indiscreet (1958) but then you went ahead and captivated me, the Hemingway fan, in For Whom The Bell Tolls (1943) you were alongside the great Gary Cooper. You then smacked me with a tremendous performance in Gaslight (1944), which was directed by another highly-regarded Hollywood Dreamland icon, George Cukor. But it was your role in Notorious (1946) (in which you should have won an Oscar) that I was once and for all convinced of your brilliance.


Always Maria: Ingrid Bergman breaks my heart in For Whom The Bell Tolls (1943)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wanted: Katharine Hepburn in a Car, Circa 1930s


Being the "odd bird" that I am--"odd bird" was a term my grandmother used to describe eccentrics--Something I've been desperately searching for is a photograph of Katharine Hepburn, from the 1930s, in California, at the wheel of a car, with a Spanish Villa-style home or building in the background. It's an image I've burned into my mind and it's imagery defines the very concept of Hollywood Dreamland. I recently managed to find the above photograph, but it doesn't look like the 1930s; maybe early-fifties and it doesn't embody that 1930s fantasy. Anyway, if someone out there knows of a Katharine Hepburn photo with her at the wheel of a convertible, please contact me! I'm sure such a photo exists and I'd love to see it.


In fact, I intend to track down pics of any 1930s/40s movie star at the wheel of or posing with their cars. It sounds like the theme for a coffee table book: Stars and Their Cars In Hollywood's Golden Age. I found this absolutely wonderful Rita Hayworth photo. It's tantalizingly close to what I'm looking for--no, please don't use Photoshop to put Kate into the image!--it captures the leisurely pace of early Hollywood and I love photographs of the stars at play, especially when it's in and around Los Angeles. The whole idea of the photo, the time frame, and that locale are all part of my shameless glorification of Hollywood's Golden Age. There's just so much about all of this that captivates me.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Movie Blogs I Love, Part II


Back in March I posted a list of my favorite classic movie blogs. Since that time, I've had the pleasure of finding some more. I also want to include ones I inadvertently omitted the last time around! Most every one of these sites can be found on my sidebar, but I'd like to give them the spotlight.

NOTE: There are just so many great classic movie blogs out there that I feel terrible when I post a list like this--however long it may be--and neglect to mention someone's site. So take a look at the sidebar; I'm always adding to it.

Marx Brothers Council of Britain The very latest entry! Hope that cough gets better, Matthew. ;)

Carole & Co. One of the great classic movie sites out there. It's become my morning newspaper because of all its "latest" info on Carole Lombard.

Where Danger Lives A recent discovery for me. Named after a Robert Mitchum movie, this blog covers the Noir era in addition to many obscure 1940s and 1950s films.

Radiation Cinema Sci-Fi and B-Movies get the spotlight. Always a treat and as much fun as the cheesy movies themselves.

She Blogged By Night The blog's author, Stacia, has vinegar running through her veins--and she knows all the bad words! Great reading, with outstanding reviews and insight.

Movie Classics I couldn't help but notice how Wordpress bloggers seem so much more sophisticated than we Blogger dot com folk. Movie Classics is another sparkling example of that Wordpress brilliance.

Classic Maiden Like Kay Francis? Barbara Stanwyck? I sure do. The Maiden is out of Denmark and is a joy to read and learn from.

RetroHound! A collector of seemingly everything, the Hound dedicates a fair amount of space to film reviews, too.

Classicflix.com Blog The latest news on classic film and TV releases.

Classic Forever A breezy, refreshing blog with music. I make sure to read Millie's latest and so should you. She's also responsible for getting the song "Sometime in the Morning" stuck in my head!

Another Old Movie Blog My most recent discovery. A blog that covers the "classic and not-so classic films of the first half of the twentieth century."

Carole Lombard.org Great source for all things Carole. Great blog, I just hope this and Carole and Co. don't murder each other for Total Carole Blog Supremacy.

Sidewalk Crossings Part writer's diary, part movie blog. Deb's a Jerry Goldsmith fan like me, only more so.

Permission To Kill David covers the spy side of life and he does a great job with his movie reviews as well as spy-themed TV shows and music.

And there you have it. Part II. I'm sure I'll stumble upon more blogs that many of you probably already knew about...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I'm Over There--With Gail

Kate Gabrielle of the outstanding Silents and Talkies blog has graciously allowed me to go on (and on!) about Gail Patrick as a guest blogger today, so have a look, and check out Kate's fantastic artwork, too.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Replacing The Thin Man

A Man in Demand: Melvyn Douglas was chosen to play a Nick Charles-style detective in two potential film franchises in 1938.


I've written a few entries on what I refer to as the Husband and Wife Detective Team , so I was fortunate to find a book, Jon Tuska’s The Detective in Hollywood (1978) which covers the many movie series detectives popular in the 1930s and 40s. The book is noteworthy, despite its often cynical tone, for providing the interesting backstory on The Thin Man series and MGM’s desire to strike gold once again by pairing another onscreen couple in the hopes of replicating the William Powell-Myrna Loy electricity.

William Powell had a tremendous career year in 1936 (the best year any actor ever had), but 1937 found the actor dealing with life and death situations. In June, his fiancée Jean Harlow, 26, died of uremic poisoning. Shortly afterwards, Powell was diagnosed with colon cancer, which required surgery and radium treatments. He would not make a movie for the next two years. MGM, looking to keep the money rolling in, began searching for substitutes for another husband and wife detective team series. The move was seen by Metro as “insurance”, and as the author cynically notes:


"Metro announced to the trades that in view of Powell’s difficulties the next Thin Man picture would star a new team consisting of Virginia Bruce and Melvyn Douglas…Metro had been taking out insurance, looking for a new team that clicked like Powell and Loy. Not only were they concerned about Powell’s living long enough to make another picture, but Loy herself, who was quite difficult to get along with and anything but the perfect wife off-screen, was constantly after the studio to give her major star buildup like that of Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo."

So Suave: Melvyn Douglas looks characteristically dapper in 1938's "Arsene Lusin."

The first of these Thin Man substitutes featured Melvyn Douglas. In The previously-mentioned mystery-comedy, Fast Company (1938), Douglas and Florence Rice are rare-book dealers Joel and Garda Sloane, who become involved in a murder mystery after a rival book dealer is killed. Strangely enough, MGM recast the next two Fast movies, Fast and Loose (1939) with Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell and then that same year, Fast and Furious, with Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern as Joel and Garda.

Columbia pictures tried its own hand at grabbing some of that Thin Man action and tapped--you guessed it-- Melvyn Douglas as detective-turned-lawyer in 1938’s There’s Always a Woman, in which he and Joan Blondell played sleuthing couple Bill and Sally Reardon. Bill wants to give up detecting and return to his job at the district attorney’s office, but Sally is hired by a friend to determine if her fiancée is having an affair. Of course, a murder is committed, and both Bill and Sally are both on the case. An interesting aspect of the film is that Sally is the heart of the detective agency, and an equal partner in the firm. Heady stuff in 1938! An actress like Joan Blondell was just the sort of personality who could pull that off, too. However, the studios didn’t think so, because the sequel, 1939’s There’s That Woman Again, had Sally being played by Virginia Bruce. Melvyn Douglas was back as Bill Reardon, though. Apparently both MGM and Columbia believed that Douglas, who bore a passing resemblance to William Powell, was the man to be the “next” Nick Charles. I believe that while Douglas was a fantastic actor, the sometimes-broad comedy that Powell could do with ease was not Douglas’ forte. Douglas’ humor was dry, subtle, and sophisticated, whereas Powell, while all of those things, also brought a physical presence to his comedy that Douglas lacked.


Both the “Fast” and “Woman” series were scrapped. MGM and Columbia probably realized that William Powell could not be replaced. In the non-tormented, non-Noir detective racket, there’s Nick Charles and then there’s everyone else. No wonder the studios were scrambling like panicked schoolgirls when Powell was diagnosed with cancer. The Thin Man series was a huge moneymaking franchise and an unexpected success, to boot. The studio suits believed that they could replicate the Sleuthing Couple formula with some combination of their stable of stars and contract players, but it didn't happen. However, from the tragedy that was Jean Harlow’s death and the serious health problem that was colon cancer, The Dapper One would return to movies in 1939’s Another Thin Man, the trailer of which includes a “Welcome Back, Bill Powell!” banner written below Powell’s visage at ad’s end while accompanied by the strains of “Happy Days are Here Again.” There would be three more Thin Man movies: in 1941, 1944, and 1947. William Powell would live another forty-five years, happily married to his wife Diana Lewis (twenty-three years his junior) and live in blissful retirement in their Palm Springs home for nearly thirty years after walking away from films in 1955. Powell reportedly loved reading and watching TV in his mammoth bed, wearing his silk robe, and with an ever-present cocktail in hand; sounds like a happy ending worthy of Nick and Nora Charles.


As for those would-be Thin Man knock offs, they're best viewed today as amusing entries in the sleuthing couples sweepstakes, but when seen in the context of the 1930s, when desperate movie studios attempted to replace their biggest moneymaker in the detective genre, one can see that they're pale substitiutes compared to the superior films--and actor-- they were supposed to replace.


The Template: No one played suave, smooth, and silly like William Powell.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Thin Man: Murder Over Cocktails

I just found this listed at Amazon and put in my order. The Thin Man: Murder Over Cocktails was published in November, 2008. I've been craving books like this, especially in light of my ongoing Husband & Wife Detectives obsession. Is it just me or are there few books being published about the Golden Age these days? I'll provide a detailed review of the book right after I'm done reading it. In the meantime, here's the blurb:


"The Thin Man films are one of the most highly regarded and successful series of films from Hollywood's classic era. This book looks at the people who populated the films, including full chapter profiles of its stars, William Powell and Myrna Loy, whose chemistry together was a huge reason for the success of the films. As Nick and Nora Charles they knocked the stereotypes of on-screen marriage out of the park and replaced the stiff and formal with fun and sexy. But not to be forgotten are the great character actors who added their own special magic to each and every film. Each chapter includes profiles of these actors as well as the creative teams behind the films. The book offers up detailed synopses of each of the films as well as behind-the-scenes anecdotes and trivia. If you love The Thin Man then this is the book for you!" 312pp. Bear Manor Media. Trade Paperback.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Classic Film Chemistry 101

It brings a smile to my face when I see the great movie couples onscreen. Every scene they have together crackles with a wonderful energy: tense, sensual yet with a sense of humor. All of these attributes go goes beyond mere flirting. I haven't a clue about what makes chemistry what it is, but I can say that it's at least a bona fide understanding of one another's tendencies. Sure, two of the three were actual couples offscreen, but even if you're new to classic film and didn't know that, you'd probably say to yourself "These two have to be married!" There are many notable movie couples in the Golden Age, but the three represented here are the best that ever were, or will likely ever be. If you want a real laugh, say aloud the names "Tracy and Hepburn" and then, if you can, pick out two of today's "big stars" and then say their names out loud. Funny how the newbies don't compare, isn't it? Actually, it's pathetic and sad. But who cares? We deal in magic and dreams here at Hollywood Dreamland, but also chemistry.

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn: These titans appeared in nine films together. You should watch them all, but start at the beginning with Woman of the Year (1942) and see how Tracy is the quintessential American male and how Hepburn is well into her liberated woman stage--which spanned her entire life. Still, her role as Tess Harding is among her best. She, as always, has a timeless appeal. Now skip ahead to Adam's Rib (1949) and see them as married lawyers--the two are at their peak in terms of their onscreen rapport. Finally, jump to the preachy, mawkish, and cheap-looking Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (1967) Criticisms aside, the duo are wonderful in this, Tracy's final film. I've always viewed these three movies as chronicling the beginning, middle, and end of their onscreen partnership, as if it were the same couple in all three films. That relationship is summed up by Tracy's speech at the end of Dinner. If that speech doesn't bring a tear to your eye, have someone in the room call a coroner, 'cause you're dead, pal.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall: It begins with To Have and Have Not (1944) He was forty-five and she was...nineteen??? That's no girl, that's a real woman! I still watch in amazement when I watch their scenes together. Bacall mesmerized both Bogie and director Howard Hawks, who both knew a real woman when they saw one. Bogart got the girl and they married in real life. Now take a look at Key Largo (1948) The couple barely have any dialogue with each other, but they say more with smouldering glances than any other pair I've seen. Readers of this blog should know by now how much I appreciate understatement in acting, and that what's implied and unsaid is so much more effective than the mere obvious act of just speaking the lines. Take that, Johnny Rocco!


William Powell and Myrna Loy: Of the couples here, this one is what I'd call "The Well-Oiled Machine." They hadn't the slightest romantic notion towards one another and were often involved in tragic or failed relationships while working together, but these two professionals are probably the best ever, because what they did was act. Show business pros like no other. Watch them in The Thin Man (1934), and note the scene in the kitchen, when Powell is taking a tray of cocktails out and he gives Loy a peck on the cheek as he's leaving. Her reaction looks like the bit was improvised, but the scene is perfect for Nick and Nora's characters, and both actors knew it was part of their magic onscreen. In all, Powell and Loy did fourteen films together, but this series remains their legacy.

Now, go and watch these masters at work. Or if you're already familiar with them, go and watch them again--I know you will.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Gary Cooper in High Noon (1952)

"If I'm a Man, I Must be Brave": Gary Cooper is Marshal Will Kane.

In the seven months that I've been scratching out this blog, I've somehow neglected to mention one of my all-time favorite stars--Gary Cooper. I never did do a 20 Favorite Actors list, but Cooper (1901-1961) would be a sure-fire member of that group. Once the most popular and highest-paid man in America, Cooper's legacy hasn't proven to last like many long-dead stars. He's not the object of some girl's pre-pubescent crush like 1950s icons Brando, Dean, or even Clift, and you won't find a silkscreen t-shirt of him at the mall like one would with John Wayne.

I got interested in Gary Cooper initially because he was a good friend of another highly-regarded icon of mine, writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) ("Papa" to his devotees). When I was exploring Hemingway's work, Cooper figured in many of the author's movie endeavors. He was Frederick Henry in 1932's A Farewell to Arms and Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). Hemingway often said that Cooper embodied the Hemingway hero to a fault and though Papa despised most every film adaptation of his work, he always praised Cooper for his portrayals, as well as his personal character, as the actor was a true outdoorsman, just like the rugged author. The two often hunted together in Sun Valley, Idaho or Billings, Montana and had a morbid, running joke about who would die first, or as they put it, who would "beat the other to the barn." The Hemingway association built Cooper's reputation in my eyes, so I was off to discover his movies.


In 1997, I saw High Noon for the second time. The first time I had been a kid and didn't have the background on Cooper then. After seeing the western classic a second time, it became an obsession. I watched the film dozens of times, finding all kinds of meaning in Coop's Oscar-winning performance as Marshal Will Kane. I had read that High Noon was a not-do-thinly veiled commentary on HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee), but I loved the movie because it was a statement about the individual, which was obviously something Cooper saw, too.

For those who haven't seen it, High Noon concerns newlywed Hadleyville Marshal Will Kane and his young wife, Amy (Grace Kelly) who are to start their new life together, but on their wedding day, word comes that a killer Kane put away is out of jail and coming back to enact bloody revenge. The Marshal decides he must stay to defend the town he himself cleaned up. However, the townsfolk are spineless and complacent. They've forgetten the man who brought the town peace and don't want to be involved, each with their own tidy, gutless excuse. Kane alone who must take on the killer and his gang. The simple message of standing up and acting when danger is imminent resonated with me. I even went as far as to look for people in my day-to-day life acting like the spineless Hadleyville residents in their lack of courage in the most trivial things. I probably took my love for this movie too far, but that's what I do.


High Noon is a classic on many levels, not the least of which is Dimitri Tiomkin's haunting theme song Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin', one of the greatest songs ever written for a film. Coupled with the spare song, is the minamilist direction of the movie's opening sequence, which is equally brilliant. The song is told from Kane's point of view and the weight of its power factors into Cooper's wonderful portrayal. It should be noted that this western, that most American of genres, was directed by a German, Fred Zinneman, with music composed by a Russian, Dimitri Tiomkin. That's America to me!


But it was Gary Cooper's career-defining performance that I loved over everything else. I saw his technique of letting the spaces between his dialogue say what words couldn't, and he communicated what he and the audience felt. It's every bit as important as how an actor says his lines. There's a Hemingway connection with Cooper's acting style, in that the author's "Iceberg Theory" lets the reader know what's going on with just a bit of dialogue, but what's unsaid is much more substantial, and it's so obvious when I watch High Noon. I loved it when Cooper is arguing with his oversexed deputy, Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges) and when Pell says that Kane should just leave town, Coop respons with "I want to, Harv; but I can't do it." As silly as it sounds, I used to rewind to the part Cooper said "I can't do it" several times because the way he said it spoke volumes. You knew that he thought long and hard about up and splitting that ungrateful town, but his conscience and character wouldn't allow that. He also says the line with the subtlest of anger and the greatest conviction. I think I'm the only film nut who harps about that bit of dialogue and its delivery, but it remains one of my favorite movie moments. Not bad for simple country boy Cooper, who could teach more to Lee Strasburg's students in High Noon than a lifetime of classwork could ever instill.


I haven't seen High Noon in quite some time, and don't even have the DVD, but the movie is burned (branded?) into my brain. I need to go and revisit that old icon, Cooper, whose simple, understated performance captivated me and more than lived up to the legend bestowed upon it. Funny that it took me so many words to discuss Cooper, a man of few words. Oh, the irony...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ginger Rogers: Tender Comrade (1943)


Tender Comrade (1943) was a Ginger Rogers vehicle showcasing the recent Oscar winner and RKO top draw. Tender Comrade costarred one of the studio's up-and-coming talents, Robert Ryan, who in 1947 would play his defining role in Crossfire. Both films were directed by future Hollywood Ten blacklistee Edward Dmytryk, while fellow future persona non grata, writer Dalton Trumbo, penned this World War II propaganda piece.

Tender Comrade--don't worry, no spoilers-- chronicles the lives of Jo Jones (Rogers) and her husband Chris (Ryan), Chris ships out overseas and Jo, who works at a defense plant, decides to pool her financial resources by sharing an apartment with two coworkers, and run in it "democratically." We are then teated to numerous propagandistic and emotionally manipulative plot elements, and heart strings are duly tugged. There's nothing really "red" about the film itself--other than the use of the word "comrade" in the title--considering the pro-democracy rhetoric that is laid on with a trowel, but Ginger's mother, Lela, objected to what she saw as socialistic dialogue. The dialogue was cut at her behest, and Tender Comrade succeeds at being nothing more than a homefront propaganda piece about "keeping one's chin up" during the tough times. Mrs. Miniver and Since You Went Away are similarly-themed films.

Since so much of Ginger's work is unavailable on DVD, this WWII curiosity is unlikely to get a release anytime soon. I think Rogers and Ryan made an interesting-looking couple, and wouldn't have minded seeing the two together again. It's also fun to see the pre-Crossfire Robert Ryan being so...nice! However, seeing Ginger in so many soapy tearjerkers in the post-Astaire years only makes me wish she'd have made some musicals of her own.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Poll Results: James Cagney


“There you go with that wishin' stuff again. I wish you was a wishing well. So that I could tie a bucket to ya and sink ya!”

~Tom Powers (James Cagney) in The Public Enemy (1931)




The results (44 votes total):

James Cagney- 29 (65%)
Edward G. Robinson- 8 (18%)
Humphrey Bogart- 5 (11%)
George Raft- 2 (4%)

Warning: spoilers ahead!

Was there any doubt as to the outcome? James Cagney won our poll-- Who is the greatest gangster of the Golden Age of Hollywood-- and the voters shoved a grapefruit into the face of Cagney’s collective opposition. I can see how he won so easily. Cagney’s gangster characters were more ferocious and intimidating than his contemporaries, because at any given moment you never knew when a Cagney gangster would lash out. He is part of Hollywood lore with two immortal moments in two of his best-known gangster films, The Public Enemy (1931) where Cagney’s Tom Powers is rotten to the core, shoves citrus in Mae Clarke’s mug, and drops dead in a rain-drenched gutter. Later, in the 1940s, Cagney is nihilistic gangster Cody Jarrett in White Heat (1949) with an Oedipus complex as he goes up sky high, but not before uttering one of the most famous lines in cinema history: “Made it ma, top of the world!!!” But as bad as his character is, he’s still nobler than amoral rat fink S.O.B. Edmond O’Brien, who drops a dime on our boy Cody after infiltrating Jarrett’s gang and gains his trust; I still get ticked off about that every time I see White Heat! That’s testament to Cagney’s likeability and sheer screen magnetism. I half-jokingly tell anyone who’ll listen that I’d pay real money to reenact Cody Jarrett’s prison cafeteria meltdown when he learns that his “ma” has died.

Cagney’s competition in this poll were all notable tough guys, and all played gangsters in their own special way, but none of them have the fury, rage, and potential for sudden unpredictable violence as Cagney’s characters do. Edward G. Robinson was menacing, Humphrey Bogart had the stare, and George Raft had that coin-flipping prelude to putting some mug’s lights out. But they don’t have—forgive me—the white-hot rage and mayhem of a Cagney character. No one does. They also didn’t get such memorable writing and visuals that are associated with James Cagney’s most frightening characters.

By the way, my fedora’s off to the two of you that voted for George Raft. You guys must be really tough to take a beating like he did in this poll, which tallied the most votes since we started doing this error-free, unscientific, Hollywood Dreamland poll.


Say it with Me: "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!!!" Boom.