Thursday, November 13, 2014

#1,550. 'G' Men (1935)

Directed By: William Keighley

Starring: James Cagney, Margaret Lindsay, Ann Dvorak

Tag line: "Hollywood's Most Famous Bad Man Joins the "G-MEN" and Halts the March of Crime!"

Trivia: An opening scene was added in 1948, 13 years after the film was made, depicting new FBI recruits about to view this film

Accused by some groups of glorifying criminals in movies like Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, Warner Brothers decided to mix things up in the mid '30s by focusing not on the crooks, but the authorities assigned to take them down. Directed by William Keighley, 1935’s 'G' Men was one of the first in this new string of crime films. It also happens to be one of the best.

With his law practice floundering, defense attorney Brick Davis (James Cagney) takes the advice of his old pal Eddie Buchanan (Regis Toomey), a “G”-Man who was recently killed in the line of duty, and becomes a Federal Agent. Saying goodbye to his sponsor, racketeer and gang leader ‘Mac' McKay (William Harrigan), as well as former girlfriend Jean (Ann Dvorak), Brick leaves New York behind and heads to Washington to begin his training. His first day there, he butts heads with Jeff McCord (Robert Armstrong), the agent assigned to show him the ropes, and also gets off on the wrong foot with McCord’s sister Kay (Margaret Lindsey), who Brick takes an instant liking to. Anxious to get to work, Brick helps the Agency in their battle against Brad Collins (Barton MacLane), the notorious criminal who’s now in charge of the gang that once belonged to McKay. But as Brick and his fellow ‘G’ Men soon discover, Collins is an adversary every bit as dangerous as his reputation suggests.

Though he plays a character much different than The Public Enemys Tom Powers, James Cagney is just as tough as he was in that earlier picture; the first time we meet Brick, he angrily refuses to take a case in which he’d have to defend a guy who beat up his own mother. There are even moments in 'G' Men when the actor gets to show off his comedic skills. During his training, Brick manages to rough up a surprised McCord, and at one point is tossed around like a rag doll by Hugh Farrell (Lloyd Nolan), an agent demonstrating the finer points of physically restraining a criminal. Its brief moments of levity aside, 'G' Men is an electrifying motion picture, with an entire third act that’s non-stop thrills (one particular scene, a shoot-out between the Feds and Collins’ men, is more intense than I would have ever anticipated).

Made at a time when the Production Code was in full force, 'G' Men may, at first, seem like a picture full of compromises (as mentioned above, its focusing on the cops instead of the crooks marked a major turning point in the American crime film), but the movie itself is just as exciting, and equally as violent, as any of its predecessors.


Dell said...

Love the old crime flicks of the 30s and Cagney, especially. Need to get to this one, though. Thanks for the reminder.

James Robert Smith said...

I know I've seen this movie...but I don't recall much about it. That's the problem with a lot of propaganda-type films: they're so flat that they fade from memory quickly.