Friday, July 16, 2010

The Public Enemy

Ranked as number eight on the American Film Institute’s list of the ten best gangster films, The Public Enemy is an early “talkie” that depicts gangsters as public enemies—threats to moral order and public safety. Set in Prohibition Chicago, the film also made James Cagney one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
As a gangster movie, The Public Enemy depicts very little in the way of food: dinner at the Powers’ home is simple fare, meat and cabbage, though with a keg of beer dominating the table. But it is a breakfast scene, when Powers (Cagney) squishes a grapefruit in the face of his moll, Kitty (Clarke), that has become famous across the decades, not for the depiction of food, of course, but for the movie’s audacity to include a sequence certain to outrage audiences of its day. That brief episode is perhaps the most enduring of any in the film and still has the power to take modern viewers by complete surprise.

Fun Facts:
The well-known breakfast scene in which Tom (Cagney) shoves a grapefruit in the face of his girlfriend, Kitty (Clarke), originated as a practical joke. The two actors wanted to shock the movie’s crew, just to see their reaction, but the director decided it was too good to cut and kept it in the final print. Women’s groups across the country protested against the film because of the depicted abuse of a woman, but for many years afterward, Cagney would receive servings of grapefruit when he dined at restaurants, compliments of his admiring fans.

Released 1931
Directed by William A. Wellman
Written by Kubec Glasmon and John Bright; screenplay by Harvey F. Thew

Starring James Cagney as Tom Powers, Jean Harlow as Gwen Allen, Edward Woods as Matt Doyle, Joan Blondell as Mamie, Donald Cook as Mike Powers, Leslie Fenton as Nails Nathan, Beryl Mercer as Ma Powers, Robert Emmett O’Connor as Paddy Ryan, Murray Kinnell as Putty Nose, and Mae Clarke as Kitty
Awards: 1998 National Film Registry Award

No comments: