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G-Men (1935)

by on 2013/03/11

G_Men_1935“You haven’t had an attack of brilliance lately. Why don’t you try guessing?”

* * * *

I love the way James Cagney threw a punch. Even more, I love the little gesture he would sometimes make after he threw a punch – this act of straightening himself up, bristling like a rooster and walking away.

He was a strange, wonderful hybrid. A street tough and a dancer. I read that he got his first stage break in show business, dancing dressed as a woman in the play Every Sailor. He went on to become one of Hollywood’s most legendary tough guys.

He had to work hard his whole life. He was tough, smart and scary, waving the cinematic gun around. He was a song and dance man.

G-Men is a little like the real James Cagney story. He’s a kid, a self-described “gutter rat” who grew up on the mean streets with no hope for the future. But he gets a break from a local mob boss who sees something in him and bankrolls his trip to university for a law degree.

So the street tough gets a fancy law degree and a cushy office where he pushes paper. Until his college buddy, a straight-arrow, unarmed G-Man, gets gunned down in cold blood.

There’s a nice little complexity in this tale. James “Brick” Davis (James Cagney) isn’t your run-of-the-mill whitebread G-Man. There’s a lot of grey in this tale and in this hero. I think it makes you like him even more.

This ambiguity makes for some very entertaining conflict. The G-Men instructor Jeff McCord (Robert Armstrong) takes an instant dislike to the cocky Brick. Jeff’s attractive sister Kay McCord (Margaret Lindsay) also oozes disdain for the young upstart.

There’s a great performance from Ann Dvorak as Jean Morgan, a tough show girl with a thing for Brick. She does flinty fragility beautifully in this role. Her song and dance number in this film is also a thing to see.

The plot moves along at a satisfying clip. The dialogue is snappy. The performances have heart. There’s a cops and robbers fun to the gun fights.

If I had to find a downside to this great movie it would the heavy-handed politicizing about the importance of the G-Men to American justice. When the film rolls, we are introduced to the action by an instructor who says the story of Brick will teach other G-Men how the job should be done.

But that’s a drop of water in an ocean of James Cagney goodness. The guy was a treasure.

* * * *

85 minutes

Unrated

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