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Public Enemy

The Public Enemy

5.0 1
Director: William Wellman,

Cast: James Cagney, Edward Woods, Donald Cook


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William Wellman's landmark gangster movie traces the rise and fall of prohibition-era mobster Tom Powers. We are first shown various episodes of Tom's childhood with the corrupting influences of the beer hall, pool parlor, and false friends like minor-league fence Putty Nose. As young adults, Tom (James Cagney) and his pal, Matt Doyle (Edward Woods), are hired by


William Wellman's landmark gangster movie traces the rise and fall of prohibition-era mobster Tom Powers. We are first shown various episodes of Tom's childhood with the corrupting influences of the beer hall, pool parlor, and false friends like minor-league fence Putty Nose. As young adults, Tom (James Cagney) and his pal, Matt Doyle (Edward Woods), are hired by ruthless but innately decent bootlegger Paddy Ryan (Robert Emmett O'Connor). The boys quickly rise to the top of the heap, with all the accoutrements of success: custom-tailored tuxedoes, fancy cars, and gorgeous girls. All the while, Tom's loving (and somewhat addlepated) mother (Beryl Mercer) is kept in the dark, believing Tommy to be a good boy, a façade easily seen through by his older brother Mike (Donald Cook). Tommy's degeneration from brash kid to vicious lowlife is brought home in a famous scene in which he smashes a grapefruit in the face of his latest mistress (Mae Clarke). Some dated elements aside, The Public Enemy is as powerful as when it was first released, and it is far superior to the like-vintage Little Caesar. James Cagney is so dynamic in his first starring role that he practically bursts off the screen; he makes the audience pull for a character with no redeeming qualities. The film is blessed with a superior supporting cast: Joan Blondell is somewhat wasted as Matt's girl, Mamie; Jean Harlow is better served as Tom's main squeeze, Gwen (though some of her line readings are a bit awkward); and Murray Kinnell is slime personified as the deceitful Putty Nose, who "gets his" in unforgettable fashion. Despite a tacked-on opening disclaimer, most of the characters in The Public Enemy are based on actual people, a fact not lost on audiences of the period. Current prints are struck from the 1949 reissue, which was shortened from 92 to 83 minutes (among the deletions was the character of real-life hoodlum Bugs Moran).

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Matthew Johnson
America's love affair with the cowboys and desperadoes of the Old West -- fodder of so many hits in the silent era -- is transferred to the urban environment for the 1931 classic The Public Enemy. We meet Tom Power (James Cagney) and his pal Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) as Chicago street urchins who grow from young hoodlums to mob enforcers during prohibition. Raised in the school of hard knocks by a fence known as Putty Nose (Murray Kinnell), Matt and Tom hit the big time with bootlegger Paddy Ryan (Robert Emmett O'Connor). Swinging into the high society of the criminal element, Tom falls for a beautiful girl named Kitty (Mae Clarke) but can't stay put and quickly moves on to the even greater temptation of Gwen Allen (Jean Harlow). Tom's doting Ma (Beryl Mercer) turns a blind eye to his career, but his war-hero brother Mike (Donald Cook) is furious and sees that nothing good can come of Tom's life. The Public Enemy, directed by William Wellman (The Ox-Bow Incident), is perhaps the best of Hollywood's early celebrations of the criminal entrepreneurial spirit -- and, of course, Mike is there as a one-man banner for American truism. For, ultimately, crime does not pay, but boy all that opulence and gunplay sure is fun for a while!
All Movie Guide
One of the great pre-Production Code gangster films, William Wellman's The Public Enemy made James Cagney a star, providing him with his defining role: Tom Powers, a bitter Chicago gangster driven to a tragic end. Like its contemporaries Little Caesar and Scarface, The Public Enemy was surprisingly ambitious in its examination of the social causes that drive young men into a life of crime, closely examining the allure of street gangs to working-class youths. Although the film goes to great lengths to claim that it does not glamorize criminal activity -- providing a moralistic introduction and conclusion designed to ward off censorship -- many powerful people felt otherwise, and the film's notoriety helped install the more draconian Production Code of 1934. The film's mixed message occurs largely because Cagney is so charismatic an antihero, especially compared to his straight-arrow brother, played woodenly by Donald Cook. Though the film is sometimes visually static, a common problem given the constraints of early sound cinema, it remains bracing and brutal, filled with an air of menace and hopelessness. It features talented newcomers Jean Harlow and Joan Blondell, but its most (in)famous scene -- a shocking episode in which Cagney smashes a grapefruit into his moll's face -- features the little-known Mae Clarke.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Turner Classic Movie
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Special Features

Commentary by Film Historian Robert Sklar; Leonard Maltin Hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1931 with Newsreel, Comedy Short The Eyes Have It, Cartoon Smile, Darn Ya, Smile! ; Theatrical Trailers; Featurette Beer and Blood: Enemies of the Public; 1954 Rerelease Foreword

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
James Cagney Tom Powers
Edward Woods Matt Doyle
Donald Cook Mike Powers
Joan Blondell Mamie
Jean Harlow Gwen Allen
Beryl Mercer Ma Powers
Robert E. O'Connor Paddy Ryan
Leslie Fenton Nails Nathan
Murray Kinnell Putty Nose
Russell Powell Bartender
Landers Stevens Doctor
Buddy Burroughs Dutch
Nanci Price Little Girl
Mae Clarke Kitty
Mia Marvin Jane
Snitz Edwards Hack Miller
Rita Flynn Molly Doyle
Frank Coghlan Tom As A Boy
Frankie Darro Matt as a Boy
Sam McDaniel Black Headwaiter
Helen Parrish Little Girl
Purnell Pratt Officer Powers
George Daly Machine Gunner
Douglas Gerrard Assistant tailor
Dorothy Gray Little Girl
Ben Hendricks Bugs Moran
Eddie Kane Joe, the Headwaiter
Lee Phelps Steve, the Bartender
William Strauss Pawnbroker
Charles Sullivan Mug
Adele Watson Mrs. Doyle
Robert E. Homans Officer Pat Burke

Technical Credits
William Wellman Director
Harry Barris Songwriter
John Bright Original Story,Screenwriter
Gordon Clifford Songwriter
Kubec Glasmon Original Story,Screenwriter
Devereaux Jennings Cinematographer
John W. Kellette Songwriter
Jean Kenbrovin Songwriter
Earl Luick Costumes/Costume Designer
Ed McCormick Editor
Edward McDermott Editor
David Mendoza Musical Direction/Supervision
Max Parker Art Director
Edward Stevenson Costumes/Costume Designer
Harvey Thew Screenwriter
Perc Westmore Makeup
Darryl F. Zanuck Producer


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5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This movie was the best movie ever. When you see this movie for the first time you will be BLOWN away! I highly recommend this to anyone who loves ganster classics or just classic movies peiod.