(Review originally written at 26 January 2008)

This is a very early movie within the gangster/crime genre. The movie was so early that it was afraid it could have a bad influence on people and put a disclaimer before the start of the movie, telling that this is not a movie that glorifies being an hoodlum. Movies such as "Scarface" (1932) and "The Roaring Twenties" would follow after this movie. As an early movie it was of course a sort of a trend setter and laid out the path for future genre movies, along with other gangster movies from the same time period, made before the film-noir period.

I'm calling it the "Goodfellas" of the '30's since the two movies definitely show similarities to each other story-wise and storytelling-wise. The movie focuses on a man who from a kid on slowly climbs up the criminal ladder, during the prohibition period in Chicago. It begins small, with 'simple' beating-ups and selling illegal booze but it soon escalates into one big mob war.

The movie is featuring some quite explicit (at least for its time) violence (slapping woman for instance) and the main character sleeps around with different women. Yes, it's obviously a pre-code movie!

I absolutely loved the story and how it progressed. It took its time to set up the characters and its relations. No big surprise that the screenplay got nominated for an Oscar.

It has some great typical genre moments and some unforgettable sequences and one wonderful suiting ending. It's a really effective movie, that works on many levels.

It features James Cagney in one of his firs movie roles and his first real leading role. He was original set to play the character of Matt Doyle (now portrayed by Edward Woods in the movie) but director William A. Wellman (also director of the first ever Oscar-winning movie "Wings".) was so impressed with Cagney during the rehearsals that he gave him the main part instead. A wonderful move as turned out later. James Cagney also became an huge star later and was mostly known for playing touch criminal hoodlum's, as he also does in this movie. Besides James Cagney the movie also features Jean Harlow in an early big and talking role.

I loved how the movie had some extremely good and effective camera-work, featuring some wonderful looking compositions.

A really great early gangster-movie!


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About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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