Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cagney and Company Deliver Great Performances in "City for Conquest"

I have become enthralled with James Cagney films. He was a great and gifted actor, perhaps made most famous by his portrayal of gangsters. One of my favorite movies is his 1949 film "White Heat" in which he plays a psychopathic killer. In this film, made in 1940, he plays a truck driver turned boxer who eventually falls on hard times, and who tries to retain the heart of his childhood sweetheart, and help his baby brother realize and accomplish his dream.

Cagney plays Danny Kenny, a New York City truck driver who has grown up on the rough streets. He begins to parlay his natural fighting ability into a means to help his younger brother Eddie (played by Arthur Kennedy)with his budding music composition career. Meanwhile, he and his childhood girlfriend, Peggy, played by Ann Sheridan, have a deep love for each other. Since they were children, Peggy always loved to dance. After attending numerous dance classes, she is spotted in a local club by a professional dancer (played by Anthony Quinn). He promises her a life of fame, her name in lights, and she is quickly swept off her feet. However, she stays grounded, knowing that the man she loves is there waiting for her, and that he supports her decision to realize her dream. She, in turn, supports his decision to make money as a Welter-Weight boxer. After a particular brutal match in which Danny becomes nearly blind, Peggy leaves the fame and fortune behind to pursue her real dream, a life with Danny.

There are many stories taking place in this film, but not one that over shadows another. At the heart of the film is a love story. There's the one between Danny and Peggy, and also a brotherly love shared between Danny and Eddie. Danny becomes a fighter in the ring to help his brother fund his composing and eventually his rise to his own fame. Peggy eventually gives up a dancing career so that she may be with the man she loves. It's also a story of greed. As Danny's popularity as a fighter rises, so does the number of people in his entourage who want to make a quick buck off of Danny's talent. And finally there are splashes of a more familiar theme in Cagney movies. The gangster. Amidst the need to make money are men loaning other men money in which to make their bets. In one dramatic scene, another childhood friend of Danny's, known to his friends as "Googi", played by Elia Kazan, has become such a man. Under the false pretense of going to a club to celebrate Danny's win in the ring, Googi takes another loan shark to a deserted dock, only to dump his lifeless body into the river.

I want to acknowledge some very strong performances in the film. First and foremost is Cagney's. Whether he plays a gangster or a man experiencing the peaks and valleys of life, he's equally strong and brilliant. I can't help but to be entranced on the screen while he delivers his lines. The next role I want to speak of is Quinn's role of Murray Burns, the professional dancer who spots Peggy. His role is as close to the antagonist of the film as any. However, his character is not one that one would love to hate. One would simply despise Murray. There were a couple of scenes in the film in which Danny and Murray were in the same room, and in both scenes, Murray ends up saying something that gets him a gift from Danny, a nice fist in the jaw. It's well deserved. Quinn went on to become an excellent actor in his own right.

I enjoyed this film very much. In comparison to the aforementioned Cagney film, it's not quite of that caliber, but still excellent. I recommend it!!