Total Film - 03/01/2000
"...Cagney is magnificent, totally dominating the screen..." -- 4 out of 5 stars
Entertainment Weekly - 01/28/2005
Los Angeles Times - 01/23/2005
"[Cagney] became a sensation with his searing performance as the streetwise gangster Tom Powers in this William Wellman classic."
Description by OLDIES.com:
The Public Enemy showcases James Cagney's powerful 1931 breakthrough performance as streetwise tough guy Tom Powers - but only because production chief Darryl F. Zanuck made a late casting change. When shooting began, Cagney had a secondary role but Zanuck soon spotted Cagney's screen dominance and gave him the star part. From that moment, and indelible genre classic and an enduring star career were both born. Bristling with '20s style, dialogue and desperation under the masterful directorial eye of William A. Wellman, this is a virtual time capsule of the Prohibition era: taut, gritty, hard-hitting - even at breakfast when grapefruit is served.
In William Wellman's classic crime film THE PUBLIC ENEMY, James Cagney does a star turn as Tom Powers, a trouble-ridden individual who rises from the position of cheap thug to that of a powerful Prohibition gangster. When his best friend is murdered, Powers self-destructively seeks deadly retaliation. He picks fights. He slaps women around. He roughs up speakeasy owners and tells them whom they'll get their hooch from and how much they'll order. Fists, kisses, and guns are the only things Tom knows. He eventually gets promoted to become the muscleman of mobster Nails Nathan (Leslie Fenton). But Tom's violent acts are about to catch up with him. After Tom guns down a cop, he's on the run. Later, thugs dump him, beaten, on the doorstep of his estranged and horrified family. It's only then that Tom realizes his decision to live the gangster life has been an irrevocable and deadly choice. Known as the picture that launched Cagney into stardom, THE PUBLIC ENEMY doesn't hold back from exposing the violence and tedium underscoring this ostensibly sexy life of crime. The screenplay, based on a story entitled BEER AND BLOOD by John Bright and written by Harvey F. Thew, was nominated for an Academy Award.
Description by Warner Home Video:
James Cagney gives a tour-de-force performance in his tough-guy portrayal of a petty hoodlum who rises to big-time gangster.
Tom Powers enjoys proving to others why he is the Prohibition era's public enemy number one. But things are about to change.
A great edition of Public Enemy
Movie Lover: Laura Demilio from
Pittsburgh, PA US -- November, 9, 2005
Re my review of Little Ceasar - these very highly recommended prints are in excellent condition; the extra attractions on the DVD are fabulous - a 1931 night at the movies experienced through a newsreel, comedy short, trailers and cartoon, before going into the film itself - and it's heartily advised to watch the commentary version of the main feature first when so familiar with this most famous of the Depression-era gangster film cycle, The Public Enemy. It would be wonderful if this fine treatment of commentary, documentary, and Leonard Maltin's hosting could be applied to a vault of classic genre films of the era- I know Leonard Maltin hosted a Pre-Code Hollywood series on VHS some ten years ago, but we've only been able to locate a few of those films.
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