Friday, September 10, 2010

James Cagney: I Know I Shouldn't Love You, But......

Tough or Tender?
Sigh... I know I shouldn't love you, Jimmy, but I do. You won't be good to me, you won't do right by me, you might even be mean to me, but, gee, I sure think you're swell.

There are others more handsome, but hands down James Cagney wins the charisma contest. He is, at every stage of his career, irresistible. He's not romantic, although you hope he will be. No, it's that little boy/charming psycho cocktail mixed with a generous sprig of good humor and dangerous grace that has me hooked. And he knows it. For those of us who ever lusted after the bad boys, he is the alpha treasure, the chairman of the board.

He can be sweet and often is. Think the Cagney of "City for Conquest" and "The Strawberry Blonde." Doesn't your heart just melt over his devotion to Ann Sheridan and (eventually) Olivia De Havilland? He almost seems as though he could be domesticated. Almost. He is Jimmy as we want him to be. He cooperates for a film or two, but it's not who he really is. He will not be tamed.

It's fun to watch him dance in "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Footlight Parade," but it's even more fun to watch him dance in "Angels with Dirty Faces" and "The Roaring Twenties." While not musical films, his performances are totally musical. His body moves to an efficient tempo like a tommy gun at target practice. His voice, hands and eyes are stylized accessories that accompany a body in full command of itself. Watch him lean into an adversary, his form at a perfect 90 degree angle.He hovers a bit, just to make sure there is the proper amount of menace, and then spins on his heels with a flourish. Later in life the body got a little stockier, but he never lost the musicality. His tortured passion for Doris Day in "Love Me or Leave Me" is  a symphony;  his Cody Jarrett of "White Heat" grand opera.

Cagney was a complicated soul who just wanted to be a simple guy. He really hated having those moments of insight and used his fists, his wits and various illegal means to operate in his world. His downfall often came because, for some reason only he, and not the rest of his thug associates, had a code of ethics. He was honorable. And that's what makes all of those bad-boy characters so endearing.Cagney is redeemable (as well as masculine, cute, sexy and funny). He portrayed himself as a tough guy from the slums, but the elegant dancer is always in view. Together, they combine to make beautiful motion picture music.

Some super Cagney films (so many to chose from) are: Taxi, Picture Snatcher, Hard to Handle, G-Men, and the aforementioned Angels With Dirty Faces, The Roaring Twenties, Footlight Parade, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Love Me or Leave Me. And - of course - anything that he ever appeared in. He is not known as a great lover, but paired with the right gal (Ann Sheridan in City for Conquest or Torrid Zone), he stops your heart.
Cagney and Sheridan: Perfect Together



6 comments:

Jan Miner said...

You make me want to go watch a Jimmy Cagny movie RIGHT NOW! Great blog, fun to read. Looking forward to the next.....

FlickChick said...

Glad you are having fun and I dare you not to fall a little in love with Jimmy.

tcluv777 said...

No doubt one of the best of his generation. Would he be appreciated as much today? Difficult to compare one decade with another. Well done as usual. Your opinion is shared by many. ARP

FlickChick said...

He was one of a kind. A true star.

Stef said...

I think you said exactly what I wanted to say about Cagney, and gave me some films to watch as well. Well done. I'm sharing this with a friend who loves him.

Stefanie

P.S. I'm glad to find you on facebook.

Lynne Lewis said...

I saw Jim in Captains of the Clouds when I was 11 yrs old. Shot me STRAIGHT into puberty! 'Oh. Okay. I get it now.THAT'S what it's all about'He started my passion for bad boys and gingers that goes on to this day. Treat me mean Jim. I can handle it.