The stunt likely did not sit well with his leading lady Bette Davis either. She and Cagney were actually on the same wavelength at the time, both determined to get better parts, although apparently they did little commiserating over their common lots during filming. In later years, they would be quick with praise and admiration for each other's work and integrity (and would appear together again, in The Bride Came COD, 1941). But at this point Davis was angry about her studio assignments and eager to get this assembly line "quickie" out of the way so she could honor her loan out to RKO for Of Human Bondage (1934), the film that finally earned her respect as an accomplished actress. With all that on her mind, Davis was not amused by the antics of Warners' bad boy and refused to pose with him for publicity stills. Whatever her attitude may have been during the filming, she had high regard for her co-star, believe it or not.
Seen today, Jimmy the Gent hardly seems the throwaway picture Cagney and Davis considered it, and in retrospect, there is nothing for them to be ashamed of. The picture provides Cagney with the opportunity to demonstrate his comedic skills while still giving audiences the scrappy, shady type of character that brought the actor his early success. Davis, as in all her early Warners films in which she plays a "type," gives a thoroughly likeable performance. Perhaps the most distinguishing aspect of her character is the fact that she goes upside Cagney's head, while he (much to his satisfaction during production) breezes through an entire film without striking a woman.
Jimmy the Gent performed well at the box office, and reviewers liked it, too. Variety called it "good for plenty of laughs...at breakneck speed," and even three years after its release, critic Otis Ferguson was writing about it, "If this wasn't the fastest little whirlwind of true life on the raw fringe, then I missed the other one." This was first film Michael Curtiz directed James Cagney in. He would later direct him in Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), Captains of the Clouds (1942), and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942).
Like Ceiling Zero, I so desperately wanted to see this Cagney film and once again, I cannot tell you folks how ecstatic I am to have finally seen it!!! I name this film as one of my favorite Cagney films (my other favorites are Footlight Parade and Taxi! and my soon-to-be favorites [as soon as I see them] are Hard to Handle, Here Comes the Navy, and Devil Dogs of the Air [maybe]). It had so many funny scenes, like in the beginning of film, when Allen Jenkins goes into James Cagney's office and the glass in the door immediately breaks since Jenkins arrives late!! (Is it just me or does Allen Jenkins also remind you folks of Gomer Pyle?) And another scene that cracked me up is when Cagney sits in the waiting room of his competitor's office to see his former secretary Bette Davis, he is served tea and he coughs when he first sips it (what's more funny is how awkwardly he drinks it [which just goes to show you how little class he has] and how much sugar he makes the servee put in it). The running gag here is how Jimmy is constantly served tea whenever he has to wait to be called in see his former assistant. And I love how Cagney slaps poor Jenkins around instead of slapping a woman around! I would recommend this film for any James Cagney fan! (Next blog [for sure]: Great Guy )
Clips from Jimmy the Gent: