Thursday, December 3, 2009

Jimmy the Gent (1934)

I just recently the 1934 James Cagney movie Jimmy the Gent for the first time, and I loved it! James Cagney was great as Jimmy Corrigan, the unscrupulous genealogist--as he liked to call himself but I think the term is too fancy for him--who locates the missing heirs to fortunes, and when he can't find the true heir, he's not above concocting a fake one for a 50 percent cut of the estate. Bette Davis is his erstwhile love interest, a former employee who has gone to work for an outwardly more respectable "genealogist," although it's soon apparent she still carries a torch for Jimmy and it's only his shifty ways that keep them apart. Davis is attractive and appealing in the role, matching Cagney line for line in verbal wit and dexterity. We even get an early glimpse of the trademark Davis intensity, as she clutches her new boss, who has offered to marry her, practically screaming into his ear, "Make me love you, make me love you!" But in this film, Jimmy Cagney has a shaved head (he had it shaved before filming started), and when they said it was the worst haircut in his career, they weren't kidding! I literally couldn't take him seriously with that silly buzz cut; it was like he was cut in half or something.
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 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 [1936])

Clips from Jimmy the Gent:


  1. Cagney fan, I wanted to stop by and wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. You have done a wonderful job with your Cagney blog.

  2. Why thank u. I've worked very hard on it.



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