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City for Conquest (1940)

by on 2013/03/24

city_for_conquest_1940“He’s got to win …because he doesn’t care if he wins or not.”

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Did you know this? Dreams can be bad. Like really bad. Like wreck your whole life and leave you penniless bad.

I recently finished reading Augusten Burroughs’ book, “This is How.” It is a strange and wonderful self-help book. Maybe self-help is the wrong moniker, come to think of it. Maybe it is better described as a bracing self truth book.

It brings the ice-cold bucketfuls of statements like these: “The truth is that nobody is owed an apology for anything. Apologies are lovely when they happen. But they change nothing. They do not reverse actions or correct damage.”

Somehow though, it is an uplifting, self-affirming book by an author who despises the crappy self-help staple of positive self affirmations. You know the drill. “I am good enough, smart enough and doggone it, people like me.” (Thank you, Stuart Smalley).

Burroughs hates the thin, treacly pabulum of mumbled-into-one’s-mirror platitudes. I got to agree.

Burroughs was equally tough on dreams – the bad ones, the ones based on bad, flawed ideas, false assumptions, sketchy talent, well-meaning lies from friends and family to “go for it, no matter what.” Those kinds of dreams can destroy …you know, everything.

City for Conquest is about dreams and New York City. It is how the great gaping maw of New York City loves the taste of sweet, sweet dreams.

James Cagney plays Danny Kenny, a boxer with a heart as big as the entire city. He loves a dancer, Peggy Nash played by Ann Sheridan. They could be somebodies. Danny’s got a talented bruddah, a guy who can really tickle them ivories, played by Arthur Kennedy (High Sierra) . He could be somebody too.

This talented New York crew with BIG DREAMS is rounded out by scrappy street urchin named Googi played by director Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront) in an acting turn. Kazan looks underfed and menacing in this role, as a wealthy racketeer who dragged himself up from the gutter.

Peggy Nash (Sheridan) catches the eye of a fellow dancer Murray Burns played by the brutishly great Anthony Quinn (The Guns of Navarone). She heads out on the road with the smacky, yelly Burns to establish her dancing career, leaving poor Danny behind.

Danny’s no slouch in the talent department, the scrappy redhead can really throw a punch. So while he waits for his erstwhile gal, he starts up a half-hearted but successful fight career. But it is Peggy he really wants, he’s just killing time until she comes back. Cagney always delivers a performance that uniquely capable of breaking my heart.

I was thinking of Mr. Burroughs warning about dreams while I watched this heart-breaking Cagney movie. Dreams of wealth, fame and fortune that distract from what’s true, good and important can be quite bad indeed.

While the film dragged through the exposition and sagged in the middle, the ending is a blinding uppercut that had me worried about the Kleenex supply in my house.

So I guess the warning here is instead of telling yourself “keep trying, don’t give up, think positive” ask yourself, “perhaps this just a really stupid idea and I need to look at doing something else now.” Because the journey of a 1,000 miles can sometimes end very, very badly. (Thank you, despair.com).

This is a good one too.

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104 minutes

Unrated

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