You may not have seen this movie, but you’ve seen the story. A guy from the wrong side of the tracks strikes it rich (in this case Jimmy Cagney, peddling liquor during Prohibition), certain that will win him the love of the pure and innocent object of his desire (Priscilla Lane, who wants to be a musical theater star), but has his heart ripped from his chest when she falls for a relatively pure and innocent guy (his attorney/pal played by Jeffrey Lynn). Meanwhile, our tragic hero has captured - and ignored - the love of a gal from his own side of the tracks (speakeasy hostess/off-key singer Gladys George).
Of course, that formula doesn’t require the presence of a Humphrey Bogart, but he fits in nicely as the threat to Priscilla and Jeffrey’s future happiness, offering Cagney a shot a redemption as Jimmy struggles to rescue them.
This was 1939, two years shy of The Maltese Falcon, and Bogart was still typecast as the bad guy. So Cagney got most of the screen time and all of the redemption. Every time they share a scene, though, Bogart commands the stage - so much so that it creates the film’s greatest flaw: It’s just plain silly when the script requires him to die like a weasel.
The film’s other flaw is Priscilla Lane. Though the pressbook touts the Cagney-Lane match-up as “Hollywood’s Thrilling New Team," they have zero chemistry, and it’s quite a stretch to believe Cagney thinks she loves him. It’s also quite a stretch for viewers to believe the other characters like her singing. As for the “Thrilling New Team,” I’d be surprised if they ever made another film together.
Still, with Cagney and Bogart - and Raoul Walsh at the helm - you can’t go far wrong. This one delivers plenty of Warner Bros action and tough-guy dialogue, and makes the Twenties roar.
More Overlooked Films & Such at Sweet Freedom.