Classic Film Guide

Public Enemy, The (1931)

A star making vehicle for lead actor James Cagney, whose tough guy, "gangster" character Tom Powers pushes a grapefruit into the face of his moll Kitty's (Mae Clarke, uncredited) face. This essential crime drama features plenty of action, including a dramatic ending. The original story by John Bright & Kubec Glasmon earned them their only Academy recognition when it was nominated for an Oscar. The film was added to the National Film Registry in 1998. Directed by William Wellman, the cast also includes Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, Donald Cook, and Beryl Mercer (among others).

Hoodlums Tom (Cagney) and Matt Doyle (Woods) get their first taste of big time crime working a job with Putty Nose (Murray Kinnell). But when Putty leaves them holding the bag on the job, Tom vows to get him one day. Tom & Matt then become "big shots" selling beer for Paddy (Robert Emmett O'Connor) during prohibition. Ma (Mercer) and Tom's older brother Mike (Cook), who's just returned from serving in World War I, try to straighten out the younger Powers. But Tom gets involved in the murder of Putty (Murray Kinnell), which ultimately leads to the aforementioned, unforgettable ending. Blondell plays Matt's fiancée and Harlow provides window dressing as Tom's upgraded, upscale gal.

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