When Danny of Pre-Code.com and Karen of Shadows and Satin announced their Pre-Code Blogathon, I saw it as a challenge. Although I absolutely love films of the 1930's, I'm not terribly familiar with "pre-code" as a genre. To be perfectly honest, I'm actually a fan of the Hayes' Code. (Please don't ban me from pre-code.com!) A completely unpopular opinion I know! And one that deserves a rather detailed explanation in another post. Still, I've lately seen a bit more pre-code films and I can see the appeal. Like film noir, they are very characteristic to their time period and provide a unique viewing experience. Then I thought - what could I possibly write about since I don't know pre-code that well? Well, why not turn to the star who introduced me to pre-code films... James Cagney. If you've followed me at all you know I'm a major fan of this man's work. And my discovery of him and my quest to watch his films led to a number of pre-codes, seeing as he started in Hollywood in 1930 and was most successful in that decade. So for this year's Pre-Code Blogathon I bring you a rousing pre-code double feature starring James Cagney: Picture Snatcher and Taxi!
Picture Snatcher (1933)
|In one of my favorite scenes, Danny gives some college kids a tour of the paper. A romantic vision of the newpaper|
industry featuring clouds of paper floating above and linotype machines typing out pickup lines.
The plot might sound like a perfect setup for a pre-code film, but it's the little things that cement its status in the genre. A major turning point in the film is directly inspired by the true case of a newspaperman sneaking a photograph during the electric chair execution of murderess Ruth Snyder. Then there's the climactic gun battle with Danny and Jerry the Mug holed up in a New York flat, machine gun fire tearing through the walls quicker than Cagney's lines and crumbling all around Jerry's wife and kids. Ah... They don't make 'em like they used to... And in between gun battles and car chases you've got Danny snatching pictures of scantily-dressed pre-code poster girl Alice White and seducing an old flame to find out Jerry's whereabouts. And oh -- that language! I love seeing the news flash in town of "Jerry the Mug wanted for murder"! And Danny, when he exclaims, "What do I care if some moll fries?!" It's the language of these old films that makes them so otherworldly.
In my opinion, this film isn't as stereotypically pre-code as the other. Perhaps why I like it more? It has more heart... and you see more growth from the characters by the end of it. But the pre-code earmarks remain - social unrest, smooching in the movie theatre, murder, molls, and that close-up of the chorus girls' derrieres as they dance by. Pre-code indeed!
Taxi! features two-fisted, loud-mouthed Matt Nola as the ring-leader of a group of independent cab drivers rallying against the larger company that's trying to muscle them out. He falls for the company owner's daughter, Sue Riley (Loretta Young), but Matt's just not enough of a gentleman to win her over. He eventually does, though, and things seems swell until the night of their wedding celebration, when Matt's kid brother gets knifed in the back by Buck Gerard, rival cab company henchman and all-around dirty rat.
I like this movie because it has heart right alongside the murder and sadness. Here is a man (albeit unrelentingly) seeking revenge for his brother's murder, but also seeking solace in his new wife. And Sue does her best to keep her family together. With supporting parts played by Guy Kibbee, George E. Stone and Leila Bennett, this movie is a good time, sweet and heart-wrenching at moments, but fast-paced and packing a punch.
Please check out both of these movies, whether you're a pre-code fan, a James Cagney fan, or simply a fan of classic movies from the 1930's, for these are prime examples of all of that! They are easily attainable from Warner Archive.
This post has been published as part of the 2015 Pre-Code Blogathan. Please check out the other entries found on Pre-Code.com and Shadows and Satin.
*All photos found via Pinterest. No copyright infringement intended.