The Lonely Goatherd Blog

And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats - Matthew 25:32

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All original content on copyright 2008 Albert Barger or the respective authors

July 17, 2003


Pass the grapefruit
James Cagney was born 103 years ago today, July 17, 1900. Among other things, he was the original movie mega-gangster. He had some of the most fascinating body language of any actor ever. There's some little thing about his ways of moving that, for example, turned a few seconds of merely shoving a grapefruit in a girl's face [in The Public Enemy] into a moment of cinematic history that the world remembers 70 odd years later.

The Public Enemy made his name. Angels with Dirty Faces really cemented it, especially his last scene with the priest. ["No, you're asking too much."] It's really odd how he was turned suddenly- yet credibly- into a Christ-like figure. Partly that's just good acting.

Then of course there was Cody Jarrett, his psycho mama's boy in White Heat. This is the only psycho mama's boy in screen history competitive with Norman Bates. The "top of the world" bit at the end was probably the best one moment of his whole career. Then again, there's the scene choking Virginia Mayo in the barn. I'd be some kind of perv if I found that scene arousing and had a big poster of it, so I don't and didn't, OK?

He was also an accomplished hoofer. He wasn't quite the pure technical dancing whiz that Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire were, but he he was exceptionally expressive. Again, it's the body language, some extra little expression of personality beyond the basic choreography. I'm more interested in the gangster side of his work, but there's no denying Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Cagney is at this point criminally underrepresented on DVD. For some stupid reasons beyond me, Yankee Doodle Dandy is the only one of his major works available on a DVD. There are numerous cheap DVDs of perhaps worthwhile but lesser works available. Cagney alone gives a good reason why we can't yet trash the old VHS decks.

posted by Al at 7/17/2003 11:51:00 PM

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