I can't help it - I'm a Warner Brothers girl. So many of my favorite actors were either mainstays of or at least passed through that ultra-efficient factory of movie studios: Edward G. Robinson, John Garfield, Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, Ann Sheridan, Ann Dvorak, Kay Francis, Warren William, Olivia De Havilland, Errol Flynn and even Marilyn Miller, just to name a few. But my number 1 Warner's Guy is James Cagney.
Was there ever an actor with more charisma and star power than Jimmy at the height of his powers? I can't think of one (not even my beloved Cary Grant). Humphrey Bogart, before attaining mega-star status, served a long internship at Warner Brothers. As he inched towards stardom, he was cast three times as Cagney's antagonist in three terrific films. My immediate reaction when seeing them together? "PLEASE Jimmy - kick Bogey's butt now!" When paired together on the screen, Bogart, by nature of the roles he played, is seen to a disadvantage. He speaks slower and moves slower. Cagney is all speed and energy, Bogart seems turgid. Bogey is humorless, Jimmy is funny. Bogey never played a likable guy in these films. It's one thing to be bad, but unlikable is tough to take. This probably has a lot to do with why I still struggle to like Bogart. I admire him, I respect him, I appreciate him, but I just don't really like him. These early pictures formed a lasting impression that even "The Maltese Falcon" and "The African Queen" can't erase. I know, I know, but please don't try to convince me - it must be organic or hereditary or biological or something like that.
Angels With Dirty Faces
So, how does anyone compete with Cagney as Rocky Sullivan? In one of his greatest roles, Jimmy overpowers good priest Pat O'Brien (who is a pious bore) and bad boy Bogart. As crooked lawyer Frazier, Bogey is a shifty, snarling snake. He did Rocky (and Father Jerry) wrong and, even though Rocky paid the price, Bogey got his butt kicked real good. I was so happy when Jimmy plugged him.
The Roaring Twenties
Poor Eddie Bartlett, he's just a confused war vet who gets lured into bootlegging and falls for the wrong girl. But he's fundamentally decent and when fundamentally corrupt Bogey puts the hit on their good-guy friend, Eddie sacrifices his life (but not before, once again, kicking Bogey's butt). Cagney's death scene is a heart-breaker, but I was glad he got to turn the tables on Bogey before buying the farm at the church.
The Oklahoma Kid
Oy! If two New York City dudes ever looked out of place, it's Cagney and Bogey out west. But Jimmy, as Jim Kincaid, The Oklahoma Kid, gets to whup Bogey (as Whip McCord) one last time. It's all kind of campy fun, with Jimmy in white and Bogey in black. So there, Whip, take that from the man in the white hat (that's a mite too big for him)!!!
Well, it was only a matter of time before Cagney didn't have Humphrey Bogart to kick around any more and things were never quite the same. Bogart went on to a different kind of career and attained a noirish status with complex characterizations that a straight forward guy like Cagney would probably find irksome. But, if Bogey wasn't such a damn good actor, it all would not have been half as fun.
It's hard to give a presence like Jimmy Cagney a run for his money but Bogey, just warming up in the bullpen, was throwing pretty good stuff himself and soon he wouldn't be playing second fiddle to anyone. Still, Jimmy has my heart and every time I see Bogey I hope Cagney is somewhere waiting in the weeds, poised to magically appear and, if not kick Bogey's butt, at least muss up his lapels.
And how about you? Are you on Team Cagney or Bogart?
Chick, Cagney is my No. 1 gut choice. I love Bogart, but he didn't really get the chance for that response until High Sierra. That was the first of his phase of real stardom, and I think he was truly great. Until then, as you said, he did indeed play the snake-in-the-grass roles, and was not at all likeable. And believe me, I would never try to change your mind -- there are some extremely popular stars that I don't like at all, and I had to laugh when you said "it must be organic or hereditary or biological or something like that." Am I brave enough to name them? Nahhhh!
I thought The Oklahoma Kid was the dumbest movie I ever saw, and both actors were so miscast! It's pretty hard to make Cagney look so silly!
As you know from my own love for the great gangster films, I am totally a Warner girl too. But I think the most charismatic is a tie between Cagney and Errol Flynn. However, their appeal is of such different type, I think that's understandable. Excellent and fun article, Eve! (By the way, your blog is one that does not offer the "subscribe to" option either!)
Team Cagney, no ifs, ands, or buts! He was electric!
Of the movies you mentioned I've only seen The Roaring Twenties but I agree Cagney just rules the screen over Bogey! Team Cagney here as well. :)
You can have them both! While I enjoy some of their films, I'll take Carry Grant, Gary Cooper, and Henry Fonda any day over those two.
Ah, Cagney. There was nobody else like him.
I predict that someday, maybe a long time from now, you will get over the early aversion to Bogart. Why can I say this with assurance? Well, for many years I shuddered at the sight of Warren William due to the early influence of some of his nastier pre-code roles. About four or five years ago, all of a sudden, like getting struck by lightning - it was love! It can happen just like that. Of course, no one can ever replace Cagney once he's settled in your heart.
Whaddya hear? Whaddya say? Well, in other words, I hear you loud and clear, and say, I totally agree with you, Ms. FlickChick. As in, absolutely, positively. No one ever out does Mr. Cagney, that's for sure. Not from the Warner Bros. stable of stars, and/or anywhere else in once upon a wonderful time Hollywoodland. (Although, Cary does offer a rather convincing argument from time to time, but that's another story.) Meanwhile, in many ways, Cagney and Bogart are such an altogether entertaining, perpetually dueling, on-screen mismatch of sorts. And, even more so when you factor in the same great city where their real life initial-like origins began - Upper East (or West, I'm not sure) Side vs. Lower East Side, with a side order of Hell's Kitchen to otherwise divide and conquer the two. The only thing is, Cagney pulls this out of his hat when he starts dancing along Broadway, and the best Bogie can do is go back to his, "Tennis, anyone?" days as a nowhere else to go Great White Way thespian in search of the ultimate right guy role (Duke Mantee in "The Petrified Forest") to set him apart from the the had to be there pack. Or, something like that. In any case, I loved your take on these two legends. Meanwhile, a full fledged, "Tale of the Tape" comparison, dedicated to their origins, careers, and legacies would surely be something wonderful to, one of these years, do the ultimate follow-up on. (I know, don't call you Shirley.) But, I will call you the best dang classic film blog artist going, all along the somewhere out there/in here watchtower, of sorts. In still other words, thanks for yet another bit of terrific series of must-read thoughts regarding a truly wonderful, must-forever-see, portion of your favorite subject.
Cagney's one of the best. His energy is unmatched. That intense, manic energy. Very few of the classic gents could hold a candle to Jimmy.
Hi Becky - yes, I know you are a Warner's Girl, too - and I was thinking about your fine series as I wrote this. Hmmm - Flynn & Cagney - I can't imagine any situation that would find those 2 together!
Hey, Jen - marking one for Team Cagney!
Thank you, Rachel. Poor Bogey got the worst of it in those films, but even when he was at the height of his stardom, there was always something sad about him. Maybe that's why I like Cagney a bit more - no inner conflict!
Oh, Kim - you are one hard gal to please. But, that's okay. There's plenty to go around!
Caftan Woman - I'm probably closer to liking Bogey that you were to Warren William. Now, if only Jimmy would get out of the picture.....
Professor John - yikes, what can I say? You make me blush. It's so true that Cagney never had a better nemesis and those films were just the tops (well, except for that western, which the 2 boys of NYC sent up as a lark, any way). Thanks for stopping by and the words of encouragement. (You might just want to start that process for the order of protection.):)
Laura - Cagney is truly one of a kind and, though I have many favorites, I can't think of one actor who matches him in the star power category.
Bogie. Bogie. And what's his name? Oh, yeah--Bogie! Do not get me wrong, I adorer James Cagney, he's great fun to watch, but I love Bogie.
Aw, RC - I guess that Bogart guy is okay....
Seriously, he's tremendous in my book (but he just no Cagney!)
The title itself had me cracking up then as I got into reading things got even better.
As you mentioned here, Bogie did achieve major star status and while I agree that Bogie was a great actor I like Cagney just as much.
I saw The Two Mrs. Carroll's and The Bad Sister recently and I have to say I wish Cagney had been around to walk out and punch Bogies face in! I kind of like Bogie as the bad guy and getting his due at the end.
An enjoyable article and two greats! And remember that Cagney will always have the 'grapefruit scene' while Bogie, nope! : )
Sorry ChickyFlicky, but I'm going to have to go with Bogie on this one. I don't really know what he was like in person, but this energy on screen would have driven me a little kookoo. Give me Bogie's slow, deliberate burn every time. He knew how to whistle.
Thanks, Page - yeah, I had a feeling you were a JC kind of a gal! Poor Bogie never stood a chance against him! I think if the grapefruit scene had been done by Bogey, it would have looked abusive. Done by Cagney, it was mean, but there was a touch of the humorous about it.
Oh Martin, I guess Bogey has to have his peeps. Our preferences really do reveal more about us than them, don't they?
Chick, I'm also going to have to go with Bogie. I thought he was the perfect gangster. I'm sorry to say.. I never have been a Cagney fan.. Although.. I did like him in White Heat..
Oh, that's okay, Dawn. A little secret - Cagney was my first classic movies crush. They say you never forget your first - and I guess that's true!
John Garfield takes a back seat to no one as an actor!! No one!
In a real fight...John Garfield kick all the Warners actors behinds...with no problem!
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