The new edition of Bright Lights film journal has a section on pre-Code films, including a long article entitled Sinners’ Holiday: An Ode to Pre-Code, by Imogen Sara Smith. Despite the headline, the article doesn’t say anything about the early Cagney movie Sinners’ Holiday, but it does include a lot about the Roy del Ruth/Cagney and Blondell movie Blonde Crazy, William Wellman’s Heroes for Sale (I haven’t seen that one yet but want to!), and many other interesting movies, so I thought I’d pass on the link.
If you ask around among James Cagney fans about which of his movies they’d most like to see get a DVD release, this pre-code film will be near the top of the list. It was a huge box office success at the time, and is memorable in his career for several reasons.
It’s the film where Cagney has his first extended dance scene (there is a brief dance scene in the earlier Other Men’s Women, but you see more of his footwork here) – and the film with his first, and longest , scene speaking Yiddish. Most famously, it’s also the movie where he (almost) says “You dirty rat” – though the actual wording is “Come out and take it, you dirty yellow-bellied rat.”
The movie also features another major star, Loretta Young, who is at her luminous pre-code best here. It’s full of the trademark Warner grittiness, and packs a breathtaking amount of comedy, quickfire dialogue, action and melodrama into just under 70 minutes. Yet this movie has never been released on VHS, let alone DVD – and in the UK it is never even shown on TCM. Surely Warner Brothers should come up with a lovely remastered print soon in one of their box sets!
I was keen to see this movie because I’m trying to see all of Cagney’s films – and, as this came next after The Crowd Roars, which is one of my favourites, I may have been expecting too much. To me this boxing movie, directed by Roy Del Ruth, feels a bit rushed and ragged round the edges, and it’s easy to see why around this time Cagney was getting fed up with Warner forcing him to make one quick movie after another, and repeatedly casting him as a hoodlum. In this movie they even give his character the name “Jimmy” (something they did again in the gangster comedy Jimmy the Gent), which can’t have helped him to avoid typecasting.
Spoilers below cut – and more pictures