Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Past Week in Movies: “The Way Back,” “No Strings Attached,” and “Applause”

The past week has been a surprisingly good movie going time. As we all know January is generally a dumping ground for movies studios have given up on, movies they don’t feel can take the competition of busier seasons. So far though I think they should have given up completely on The Dilemma and Season of the Witch. A straight to video release would have been too good for them.

Saoirse Ronan dashes across thin ice in "The Way Back"

The first movie I saw this past week was The Way Back, Peter Weir’s retelling of the true story of seven prisoners in a 1940 Soviet prison who escaped and walked some 4000 miles from Siberia to India. It has been slammed by some critics as being slow and uneventful, but these people walked 4000 miles. Should Weir have added dopey action sequences and a stock Simon Legree-esque villain to chase them across Asia? It is a quiet movie about a remarkably determined group of people whose only goal is to survive. Weir cleverly decides not to differentiate the prisoner’s personalities all that much in the opening prison scene, letting us get to know them once they are outside the prison walls, when they are closer to people than in the prison walls. It’s sometimes tough to watch, especially as they hike through a howling blizzard or cross the expansive Gobi desert, but it’s a stirring tale of survival well worth checking out despite its very limited release. (Rating: ****)

Ashton Kutcher woos Natalie Portman in "No Strings Attached"

Later the same day I sat down to watch No Strings Attached with no expectations. Imagine my surprise when I found myself actually enjoying what I was watching. I started off like Natalie Portman’s character: where she was resistant to the idea that she could succeed in a relationship, I was resistant to the idea that I could like this movie. Like Portman’s character, I got broken down. I went from, “I can’t like this” to “Oh, that’s kinda funny” to “That’s not bad” to “Oh my God! I actually like this movie!” It’s not a great movie, but it’s a solid romantic comedy about a young doctor (Portman) who arranges an alleged emotionless friends-with-benefits relationship with Adam (Ashton Kutcher). Of course they fall in love, but the director Ivan Reitman doesn’t throw any artificial obstacles in their way like a brainless misunderstanding or an obviously awful suitor (though a couple do wait in the wings for both of them). Kutcher is fine, though he’s never bothered me the way others are. I think he may be better suited for television comedy, but he does have a nice, easy-going charm here. OK, some of Portman’s mood swings or changes of heart come at opportune times with little motivation, but I said it was a good movie, not great. (Rating: ***1/2)

Paprika Steen goes all out in "Applause"

Later last week I also finally made it out to the Danish film from 2009 Applause. Laemmle Theaters have been bombarding us with trailers for this one for months so I figured I would reward the marketing people and go out to see it despite not looking terribly interesting. I was treated, however, to a remarkable performance from Paprika Steen as Thea Barfoed, an alcoholic actress trying to reconnect with her children after abandoning them over a year before. The story is intercut with scenes from Thea’s current stage role, Martha from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Thea insists that she is better, she doesn’t drink (as much), she doesn’t explode into fits of violent rage anymore. Her ex-husband wants to believe her, but slowly we realize that the character she plays, the destructive Martha, is closer to her true self and the “better” version of Thea is another performance, a performance that is unraveling the harder she tries to keep it together. (Rating: ****)

Not bad for a January. I’m not so optimistic about next week with The Rite and From Prada to Nada waiting for me.



Filed under Current Releases

The Childhood of Maxim Gorky – Best Pictures of 1938 (#4)

Biographies are often weakest when they recount the childhoods of their subjects. It often feels perfunctory and ultimately disinterested except as a tool for highlighting those moments that would explain the subject’s later success. We learn how our subject discovered whatever it is that made him or her famous, but little else: little Galileo might spend hours staring at the stars, or little Tina Turner might start singing, or little Mark Twain telling tale tales to his friends. The Childhood of Maxim Gorky avoids this tiresome convention; instead director Mark Donskoi focuses on the formative years of Aleskei Peshkov, later author Maxim Gorky, presenting us with a series of episodes that served to form the whole person, not just the artist, a distinction that Gorky no doubt would have appreciated.

It is something of a mystery how Gorky came out of his childhood as shown in this film with the strong sense of empathy for humanity that characterized his work. (I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on liberties Donskoi took with it.) As a young boy his mother left him at his grandparent’s house for them to raise, a household governed by the equally dominate personalities of his grandfather and grandmother. Their competing personalities made for a schizophrenic upbringing. His grandfather is taciturn, petty and often arbitrarily cruel. His grandmother, however, is warm, loving, and compassionate. Aleskei’s uncles and cousins, also living in the household, adopted his grandfather’s penchant for dominance and causing pain, but somehow Aleskei is touched more by his grandmother’s influence and he grows up with a heightened sense of fairness and justice.

Young Aleskei (tenderly played by Aleksei Lyarsky) grasps for whatever love and friendship he can when he arrives at his strange and not entirely welcoming new home. While his grandfather, uncles, and cousins torment the young boy, he of course finds solace with his grandmother, but there are others with whom he connects. One of the first is a young man named Ivan, the apprentice and adopted son of his grandparents who faces the ire of his uncles because Ivan works harder than they do, making him a more fit heir for the family business. Aleksei observes his uncles’ petty cruelties directed toward Ivan that will eventually end in tragedy. Later Aleksei befriends a group of neighborhood boys, including Alexei, a  handicapped boy who is confined to his bed. It is a touching moment when Aleskei builds a cart for Alexei so the boy can finally leave his bedroom and experience the world outside.

Aleskei’s generosity extends to everyone. At first he cringes in fear but later fights back when his grandfather beats his grandmother. He bonds with Old Grigori, a lifelong employee of his grandfather’s shop. Constant contact with poisonous chemicals makes blindness an eventual certainty for Grigori and Aleskei’s grandfather will put the old man out on the street. Aleskei is moved by the old man’s plight and dumbfounded by his grandfather’s ingratitude. He also befriends a lodger at their home who reads and talks of revolution. It is through the sum of these relationships that Aleskei will turn into the great writer, the champion of the poor, the enemy of Tsarist oppression, Maxim Gorky.

Donskoi avoids a couple of major pitfalls with this film. First he chucks out any pretence of a traditional narrative. We watch the sensitive young boy grow into a hardened young teen who never lost his compassion. By the end of the film he is finally able to stand up to the tyrannical sadism of his grandfather. We don’t need any manufactured dramatics; this is an approximation of pre-Soviet Russian life and that was dramatic enough. All we need to do is visit certain episodes of Aleskei’s life to watch the boy’s social conscious progress.

Another pitfall Donskoi miraculously avoids is Soviet propagandizing, a major problem with many Soviet films of this era. Donskoi manages to relate the story without awkward condemnations of capitalism (though they are implied) or undue praise for the Soviet system to come. He keeps our focus on the story of this one boy who would collect his experiences and observations and dream of a better, more just world.

The Childhood of Maxim Gorky is a masterpiece of humanism that needs to be seen much more broadly than it is now. Many other years this would have snagged the top spot, but 1938 produced four masterpieces. Though the top choice stands above them all, Maxim Gorky is not the weakest of the four. The three after the number one choice could really be scrambled in any combination and this one ended up being number four rather randomly. It could easily have slipped into the two or three spot; it’s that good.


Filed under 1938, Yearly Best Pictures

Holiday: The Best Movies of 1938 (#5)

Holiday is an understated comedy from George Cukor starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. It has none of the Marxian zaniness of the leads’ other venture of 1938 Bringing Up Baby. It’s quiet and unassuming with undercurrent of frivolity. The actors restrain their well-known comedic impulses to play it as straight as their characters feel. That it is still funny and utterly charming is remarkable, but Cukor’s direction of a stellar cast saves the film from melodramatic dourness and from light farce. It’s a clever combination of the two that could have failed had Cukor not been as good of a director as he was.

Johnny Case (Cary Grant) is a self-made man, working steadily since he was ten. He worked his way through college doing everything from serving in the cafeteria to collecting garbage. Now he is a junior analyst for a stock brokerage and is on the verge of making a small fortune. He’s also on the verge of marrying the beautiful Julia Seton (Doris Nolan), a woman he met only two week earlier at Lake Placid. They are head over heels in love and Johnny returns to New York to meet her family and ask her father’s permission.

What Johnny doesn’t realize is Julia Seton is the daughter of the uber-wealthy Seton clan, masters of finance and wizards of commerce. He’s initially shocked, but ultimately unfazed. Her wealth doesn’t change a thing in his eyes. Not only doesn’t he want her money, he doesn’t need it. With this impending deal on the horizon he will have plenty of money to do as he wishes, which, unbeknownst to Julia, entails taking a couple years off to find himself, to find out why he’s been working so hard for so many years.

Johnny doesn’t anticipate that Julia’s family doesn’t just come bogged down with money. They are also bogged down by expectation, tradition, and social standing. Julia’s father is slow to warm up to his daughter’s young suitor; he’s impressed by Johnny’s work ethic, but shudders at the idea of his daughter marrying outside of the social registry.

Julia’s sister Linda (Katherine Hepburn), however, loves Johnny. She sees him as a possible savior for her moribund family. His dynamic personality, indisputable charm, crackling sense of humor, and free-spirited nature are great counterpoints against the stuffiness and rigidity of her own family, or, strictly speaking, her father. After Linda meets Johnny, Julia asks her sister what she thinks of him and Linda is ecstatic. “My dear girl,” she cries, “do you realize that life walked into this house this morning? Don’t let him get away!” Linda, with her alcoholic brother Ned (Lew Ayers), works to remove all obstacles to Johnny and Julia’s wedding.

However, Linda doesn’t realize that her family is beyond redemption. All her frantic scheming to get their father to accept Johnny or to break down her sister’s unfair expectations is an effort to keep Johnny in her life, because the only one she can save is herself. Marrying Johnny off to Julia, who increasingly sees him as a project to clean up and seamlessly insert him into their predetermined social landscape, is Linda’s attempt to save the whole family, but Johnny can’t save them. In fact, Julia and her father threaten to crush the spirit and freedom that make Johnny so attractive, urging him, threatening him, prodding him to abandon his plan for a holiday to find himself. They want to install him behind a desk and bog him down with houses and servants and debts. Johnny’s entrance into the family can only destroy him; the forces of the Setons’ calcified souls are too strong.

I’m sure it’s fairly obvious where the characters are headed, but that doesn’t detract from the joy of the movie. We anxiously wait for Julia and her father to be told off and Johnny and Linda to find their ways to each other. For all of its predictability it is a remarkably good movie anchored by some superb performances, especially Grant and Hepburn, but also from Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon as Nick and Susan, Johnny’s equally free-spirited friends who recognize Johnny’s matrimonial mistake well before anyone else does. So we sit back and watch Johnny struggle with his ill-advised infatuation with an unsuitable partner while the perfect partner is just steps away.


Filed under 1938, Yearly Best Pictures

The Green Hornet

As bad as the TV show was, I would rather watch Van Williams and Bruce Lee any day.

(A brief break from 1938 for a look at another new release.)

The opening scene of The Green Hornet is great fun. The dour but business-like Chudnofsky, head of the Los Angeles crime world (Christoph Waltz), faces off against a young up-and-comer Danny Clear (James Franco in an uncredited cameo). Waltz and Franco have great fun hamming it up – Franco is cocky and brash while Waltz quietly digests the young man’s insults. The head of Los Angeles crime with the unpronounceable name is washed up, he dresses badly, and, to top it off, he isn’t scary. We watch Waltz’s Chudnofsky shrink with each slur, but Clear’s assertion that Chudnofsky isn’t scary anymore – well that’s too much. He has to show the Young Turk that not only is he still scary, but Clear should be very scared right now.

The energy and humor Waltz and Franco give us in this opening scene, though, quickly dissipates into just another pointless, conventional action-adventure that takes itself too seriously. Maybe, instead of ignoring The Green Hornet’s camp 1960s television history the way Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan did with Batman, the movie should have embraced it.  There is a decent action movie lurking somewhere in there, but it’s wasted on the paint-by-numbers script. Many good elements are in place like Waltz’s interminably insecure Chudnofsky and the energetic Jay Chou as the Green Hornet’s partner Kato, but the movie suffers from two flaws, one that could have been fixed, the other fatal.

Seth Rogen and Jay Chou


The first flaw, the one that could have been fixed had someone decided to expend the energy on it, is the script. Everything we would expect is here with little innovation or creativity. Characters are flimsily developed and that would have been fine had the screenplay not depended on the development of Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) from an irresponsible playboy to a crime fighting hero. The first act is especially thin.  We rush through exposition, getting a taste of character development and backstory, but only what we will need to put the pieces together at the end. It feels like writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were anxious to get to the action without deviating too far from the formula. What fun these guys could have had if they had truly thought through the implications of a rich kid using his fortune to fight crime in the real world. And, as I suggested above, melding the real world with the movie’s television legacy could have been a hoot.  Rogen and Goldberg took the easy way out and delivered a connect-the-dots screenplay.

The second major flaw, unlike the first, was unfixable: Seth Rogen. His one-note, grating buffoonery may have sounded appropriate for the character (though I don’t know why), but Rogen isn’t a good enough actor to do anything with it. The movie screeches to a halt every time he is on screen and, since he’s the titular lead of the move, that’s a major problem. He’s creepy around women, is demeaning and racist toward Kato (did we really come to The Green Hornet to see Britt and Kato in an almost five-minute fight scene?), and overestimates his own charm. Rogen mistakes braying with acting. I wonder when directors and studios are going to realize that Rogen is a supporting actor at best. Are we so desperate for leading men that they feel they have to go with a weak actor whose shtick got old half way through The 40 Year old Virgin?

Jay Chou as Kato

On the plus side Taiwanese heartthrob Jay Chou brings an attractive energy to Kato, but the script also fails him. Why not pursue the chemistry between Kato and Britt’s secretary Lenore (Cameron Diaz)? It’s one of two things: either the sidekick can’t get the girl, or we’re still a little squeamish about the “yellow peril” snatching up our white women. Giving the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt I will opt for the former, but that means we have another case of Rogen and Goldberg playing it safe, never challenging the conventions of a superhero script in a way they were in a unique position to do. Chou has done some bad movies in Asia, but why did they have to make his first Hollywood film this rotten?

Director Michel Gondry does his best but he doesn’t push the envelope either. He constructs some striking aesthetics including an invigorating split screen descent into Los Angeles’ underworld and an unusually artistic visual journey through Britt’s thought process as he pieces together what really happened. The rest is pretty much by the book. Like the good work we get from Waltz and Chou, Gondry is ultimately undermined by the feeble script and Seth Rogen’s tiresome screen presence.

This seems to have been something of a passion project for Seth Rogen (aim high, my friend); he co-wrote and executive produced it. The passion, though, does not come through either for the radio program or the television show. There’s a brief nod to Bruce Lee who played Kato on the show and we’re treated to Al Hirt’s invigorating rendition of Flight of the Bumblebee which was the show’s theme. (It did have a life before Quentin Tarantino lifted it for Kill Bill.)  But these references don’t distinguish the overall mess. I wish Rogen, Goldberg, and Gondry had embraced the challenge, really played with the world of the Green Hornet rather than cynically using the franchise for a quick paycheck. The cultural legacy of the Green Hornet deserves better.


Filed under Current Releases

Jezebel – The Best Pictures of 1938 (#6)

Bette Davis and Henry Fonda

Bette Davis’ Julie Marsden is a clear attempt by Warner Bros. to preempt and deflate the upcoming Gone with the Wind mania. Like Scarlett O’Hara, Julie is a headstrong woman, willing to flaunt the rigid conventions of the pre-Civil War South (New Orleans this time, instead of Atlanta). Unlike the more well-known 1939 picture, Jezebel is not an idealized tribute to the antebellum South.  Instead it uses the strict social rules of that time and place to think about the true definition of courage.

Engaged to weak-willed Preston (Henry Fonda), Julie pressures the lovesick young man to support her often scandalizing decisions. After Preston breaks an engagement with her to help her choose a dress, she commits to her most egregious escapade when she chooses a flaming red dress to wear to the Olympus Ball. This causes pearl-clutching and hand-wringing throughout her family. Unmarried women, you see, never wear anything but white to the Olympus Ball. Julie’s aunt (Fay Bainter) begs her to reconsider, but she refuses; she will teach Preston a lesson.

Davis as Julie Marsden hatching a plot...

She bullies Preston into acquiescence after he refuses to take her by questioning his manhood, courage, and honor. Isn’t he, she asks, just afraid someone will insult her and he would be forced to defend her honor in a duel? Apparently Preston is fed up with Julie’s manipulations and, when she begins to get cold feet as they approach the ball, he forces her to go in.  And when everyone stares at her, refusing to dance on the same floor as her, he forces her to continue dancing on the empty floor, wanting her to experience all the consequences of her actions first hand.

The humiliating dance

This caprice is the last straw for the long suffering Preston. His break with Julie plunges her into a depression as she realizes she treated the man she loved much worse than he deserved and, maybe more importantly, she can’t always get what she wants through sheer force of will. But whatever positive changes his departure caused in Julie, his return with a new fiancée brings out the old manipulative woman, claws and all.  Her actions however, playing one admirer off another, leads to a tragic duel.

Though this sounds like a fairly sappy love story, it is actually an unusually thoughtful film out of Hollywood. Director William Wyler uses this conventional melodramatic narrative to explore the fine line between courage and cowardice. How easy it is, Wyler tells us, to mistake one for the other. Sometimes the most courageous-looking act can be inspired by cowardice, and the most cowardly inspired by courage. All the men who scramble to defend Julie’s honor fight in pointless duels, one of the many silly ways men have been showing off their masculinity throughout history.  To refuse to fight, to refuse to take part in an inane ritual that proves nothing except its participants are slaves to appearance rather than what they know to be right, would mean being branded a coward.  Taking part in the duel would mean he is actually a coward while being considered manly and brave.

Tne insanity of dueling

It’s an interesting dichotomy that is never – and probably never can be – resolved.  Even the motivation of Julie’s final, selfless act that will probably result in her death is unclear.  Is her decision proof of her undying love for Preston or is it a way to stick it to his new fiancée and everyone else who ever doubted her?  It isn’t clear to us and, I would venture to guess, she probably doesn’t know herself.

Jezebel is both entertaining and thoughtful with a fine performance by Bette Davis. In many ways the movie is superior to the misguided tribute to the South we will see in Gone with the Wind next year. There is no glorification of the antiquated system of chivalry that demanded men fight in duels for the smallest perceived insults. Jezebel condemns any system that supersedes a man’s right to make his own decision, one of the many flaws of the antebellum South that Gone with the Wind glosses over or ignores. (Most egregiously, of course, would be its depiction of sugarcoated slavery.) Jezebel verges on greatness (though it settles for being very good) for its skillful melding of thoughtfulness and entertainment. It deserves to be remembered as more than the second film for which Davis won the Academy Award. It stands well on its own accord.


Filed under 1938, Yearly Best Pictures

The Young in Heart – Best Pictures of 1938 (#7)

What happens when a family of con artists decide to pretend to be honest in order to receive an inheritance from a kindly old woman they befriend?  They get jobs, stop cheating at cards, etc, but when does pretending to be honest bleed over into actual honesty? At what point does playing a part that envelops one’s whole life become one’s life?

The Carleton's consider their next move


This is the dilemma for the dishonest Carleton family after they take up residence in the London home of kindly Miss Fortune (Minnie Dupree), an elderly wealthy woman eager for companionship who they met on a train in France.  The Carleton’s, lead by George-Ann (Janet Gaynor), hatch a ploy to become models of respectability in order to stay in Miss Fortune’s heart and home and worm their way into her will.  George-Ann’s father Sahib (Roland Young) lands a job selling Wombats, an obnoxiously super-fast car, while her brother Richard (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) abandons his usual pursuit of millionaires’ plain daughters for a job in an engineering firm.


George-Ann, meanwhile, prays that her family will come around, stop their cheating and scheming, to redeem themselves.  She keeps the plan tightly in place, assured that as long as they are pretending to be respectable, they can’t get into any trouble and, hopefully, will realize how much more fulfilling and less exhausting an honest life is compared to a life of grifting.  As the plan moves closer and closer to completion, George-Ann desperately hopes that someone will voice a concern, say it isn’t right to take advantage of such a gentle and kind old woman.  She wants someone else in her family to second her secret scruples and redeem them all from their past sins by committing to a life of honesty.

The Carleton men ponder a life of (gasp!) work

What follows is a heartwarming and funny comedy as the family discovers there is more to life than the next mark and other ways to make money than theft.  Each character goes through their own transformations, keeping their newfound scruples secret, including their wonderfully scatterbrained mother Marmy (Billie Burke).  (“My children were born in India.  They tell me it’s beautiful.  I’ve never been.”), who glides through the picture in an apparent dingbat haze until a crucial moment.  Sahib discovers the joy of salesmanship, where being an experienced con man is handy without breaking the law.  And Richard realizes engineering is kinda interesting and the girl he wants (Paulette Godard) won’t put up with dishonesty.  George-Ann, meanwhile, conducts a rocky on-again off-again romance with Duncan, a young man disgusted by what he has learned of her and her family’s past, but unable to say goodbye to her.

Fairbanks and Gaynor

Each family member keeps their newfound legitimate industry to themselves, thinking they are alone with their strange new feelings of accomplishment and don’t want to disrupt their close-knit family dynamic based, they think, on deception and theft.  A nice twist at the end tests their new resolve and suggests that their bond is deeper and more meaningful than they thought.


The Young in Heart is not a well remembered movie, but it should be. It has humor and romance  and, not incidentally, Janet Gaynor’s last film appearance. If you love 1930s movie comedy with a heart, this should be added to your Netflix queue immediately.




Filed under 1938, Yearly Best Pictures

Angels with Dirty Faces – Best Pictures of 1938 (#8)

James Cagney dusts off his tough-guy persona in this Warner Bros. gangster movie, the eighth best of 1938.  He plays Rocky Sullivan, a big time crook just out of prison returning to his childhood neighborhood.  He’s looking to reconnect with his former partner in crime, Jim Frazier (Humphrey Bogart), now a big shot in the city’s crime world. Frazier, however, is eager to dodge Rocky and cut him out of the deals he’s been in on.  Rocky realizes that his partner has double-crossed him and waits for his opportunity to get even.

Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney

This sounds a bit like a gangster pic that would have been popular early in the 1930s, but director Michael Curtiz and screenwriters John Wexley and Warren Duff have taken that familiar formula and inserted it in a more mature, aware time, a time when everyone had seen Public Enemy.  It’s a little unfair because everyone knows Rocky’s a relic.  He doesn’t; he never saw Public Enemy or Little Caesar and, as a consequence, he never grew up.  Even his old partner Frazier understands that the old days of shoot-‘em-ups are passé, out of step with the times.  Frazier became a lawyer while Rocky was on ice and found a way to be crooked and still be a respected member of society.  Frazier, like everyone else, had seen Scarface and didn’t want to meet the same fate as Paul Muni.  The world is no longer impressed by Rocky Sullivan’s antiquated tough guy act.  They know once Hollywood picks it up, it doesn’t carry as much weight.

James Cagney approaches his character as though Angels could be a sequel to a Public Enemy in which Tom Powers was sent up the river rather than bumped off.  But when he gets out of prison he finds a world that is wise to him and his kind, something that wasn’t true five to ten years earlier.  He’s no longer quite so intimidating.

Cagney and Pat O'Brien with the Dead End Kids

The only ones impressed by Rocky’s philosophy of life are the kids he meets (the second screen appearance of the Dead End Kids) in his old neighborhood.  But they are kids who think they know all they need to about the world; only their heroes, unapproachably godlike, can teach them anything, like legendary Rocky Sullivan.  That Rocky embraces them and invites him into his inner-circle would have been a bit like Lou Gehrig offering to give them baseball tips.  For them Rocky is a celebrity and they lap up everything he tells them as though it were gospel.  But Father Connolly (Pat O’Brien), a childhood friend of Rocky’s, struggles to keep both Rocky and the kids out of trouble.  Well, we know Rocky can’t stay out of trouble.  It isn’t in his nature and that would make for a boring movie.

Father Connolly’s battle for the moral life of those kids does not trump his struggle for Rocky’s soul, even though Rocky is the worst influence on the kids.  Father Connolly tries to use their adulation of Rocky as a way to save both, prodding Rocky to use his influence for good, like helping to organize a basketball team.  But Father Connolly’s strategy doesn’t pan out.  Rocky knows no other way, and the Dead End Kids will follow him over a cliff.

It is the end that poses the biggest question (which I won’t give away here).  It is never clear whether Rocky does what he does for Father Connolly or because he really turns yellow.  Though the motivation is debatable, Cagney pulls off a great scene to top off a great performance.  Then again, maybe it’s because the motivation is debatable that the scene is great.  We can read what we want into his reaction, just as we made folk heroes out of our criminals in the 1930s.  Just as we read their crimes however we wanted, Curtiz gave us an ending challenging us to rethink the mythology of the criminal that Hollywood helped create.


Filed under 1938, Yearly Best Pictures