The Public Enemy (1931). 83 minutes. Directed by William A. Wellman. Starring James Cagney (as Tom Powers), Jean Harlow (as Gwen Allen), Edward Woods (as Matt Doyle), Joan Blondell (as Mamie), Mae Clarke (as Kitty), Donald Cook (as Michael Powers), Leslie Fenton (as Nails Nathan), Beryl Mercer (as Ma Powers), Robert Emmett O’Connor (as Paddy Ryan), and Murray Kinnell (as Putty Nose).
The Public Enemy is the pre-Code movie that solidified legendary actor James Cagney’s reputation for playing tough-guy criminal types. It made a major contribution to the gangster genre under development in the early sound period, which included such groundbreaking films as Little Caesar (1931) and Scarface (1932). Pre-Code gangster films typically feature slick criminal characters who at times are positioned as worthy of our admiration for their personal style, confidence, and strident disregard for authority. One of the wonderful things about the best of those movies, however, is the way that they also provocatively ask us to … Read the rest
Baby Face (1933). 75 minutes. Directed by Alfred E. Green. Starring Barbara Stanwyck (as Lily Powers), George Brent (as Courtland Trenholm), Donald Cook (as Ned Stevens), Alphonse Ethier (as Adolf Cragg), Henry Kolker (as J. P. Carter), Margaret Lindsay (as Ann Carter), Arthur Hohl (as Ed Sipple), John Wayne (as Jimmy McCoy, Jr.), Robert Barrat (as Nick Powers), and Theresa Harris (as Chico).
Baby Face tells the story of a young woman who is sexually exploited for all of her young adulthood and who in a life-changing reversal determines that she will exploit men instead for her own personal gain. The film, which charts her quest to use sex to move up the corporate ladder, is frequently cited as a catalyst for the 1934 enforcement of the Hollywood Production Code, the set of industry censorship policies that regulated motion picture content. I have to admit that even as a fan of pre-Code movies, I was surprised by how brazen … Read the rest
Safe in Hell (1931). 73 minutes. Directed by William Wellman. Starring Dorothy Mackaill (as Gilda Karlson), Donald Cook (as Carl Erickson), Ralf Harolde (as Piet Van Saal), Morgan Wallace (as Mr. Bruno), John Wray (as Eagan), Ivan Simpson (as Crunch), Victor Varconi (as General Gomez), Nina Mae McKinney (as Leonie), Charles Middleton (as Jones), Clarence Muse (as Newcastle), Gustav von Seyffertitz (as Larson), George F. Marion (as Jack), and Cecil Cunningham (as Angie).
Safe in Hell is a dark but wonderful pre-Code movie about a fiercely willed prostitute on the run from the law in New Orleans and the Caribbean. Although raped and exploited in the United States, and ultimately executed in the context of the seedy underbelly of the South Seas crime world, she lives out her days devoted to her lover and herself with a rebellious passion. And yet, in spite of its serious content, Safe in Hell is actually laden with a great deal of playfulness both … Read the rest