(1933) dir. Roy Del Ruth
Well, I said that I was going to watch some more Jimmy Cagney movies, and here we go! Lady Killer isn’t a true Gangster film, though the film riffs on Cagney’s earlier movie The Public Enemy (1931), which I had just so happened to watch the night before, referencing the notorious scene when he shoves a grapefruit in Mae Clarke’s face with several small gags and asides. It’s a riotously-paced flick, helmed by Roy Del Ruth, another solid Hollywood director of the period. And, you know, it’s pretty clever and funny.
The film follows Cagney’s character Dan Quigley, a sharp smart-ass of a fellow who begins the film as an usher in a big New York movie theater (in a scene that is interesting in its own anachronism, having a fleet of ushers standing at a military-like attention for review by the theater manager — you know, service at a movie theater sure ain’t what it used to be!). He’s a gum-chewing, dice-playing fellow, and he’s given the gate.
But Quigley moves quickly, joining up with a small band of small-time thieves and card cheats, he gets involved in a robbery that leads to a death, and they all hit the road. I think this all happens in the first 20 minutes of the film. The rise and fall encapsulated. Of course, Quigley’s ride isn’t tragic. He’s not a bad bad guy. He’s just brassy and tough, but funny and charming, too. When he gets picked up as an extra at a movie studio, he quickly makes himself a star by writing his own fan mail. And then the story works toward its conflict and culmination when his former gangmates, who hightailed it out of town and left him in jail, come back and start to blackmail him and cause more havoc.
The film is not quite piss and vinegar, but wise, tough, and clever. Mae Clarke, of the grapefruit fame, has a larger role in this film, playing the moll of the gang, who was early on Quigley’s gal, but betrays him. When she shows up, many references to fruit are thrown in, but Roy Del Ruth one-up’s the The Public Enemy‘s brutality. Cagney finds Clarke in his bed at an inopportune time and when she refuses to leave, he grabs her by the scalp and drags her through two rooms to throw her out the door. It’s shockingly brutal, yet comic. It’s a stand-out sequence in this sharp, fast-paced comedy.
It’s a lot of fun, this film, and another good pairing with The Public Enemy. It’s kind of funny, but I don’t know if I’d watched any James Cagney films before. Now I’m all about them. Great stuff.