[box cover]

The Public Enemy

Here's the breakout movie that made a star out of Jimmy Cagney, who hereafter embodied the image of gangster cool for generations. Director William A. Wellman starts us off thinking we're getting a quaint and familiar melodrama, but by the end he's hooked us into something else altogether — something shocking and extraordinary, especially to 1931 audiences. As we track the rise and fall of gangster Tom Powers (Cagney) in the Chicago bootleg underworld, the film (like Tom) grows more visceral, dark, and violent. Bombs blow up speakeasies and Tom guns down old cohorts as well as new rivals with the same feeling he'd show toward clipping a fingernail. (And Mae Clarke gets that famous grapefruit in the kisser.) Cagney's body language and his ease with street-level speech were a revelation. Tom was no cartoonish caricature, and the reviews of the day praised Cagney's naturalism.

The Public Enemy arrives on DVD (as part of the Warner Gangsters Collection) from a honey of a print. The extras start with a commentary by author Robert Sklar. Leonard Maltin hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1931, and Martin Scorsese joins the 2005 featurette Beer and Blood: Enemies of the Public. Rounding out the extras are the text prelude for the 1954 re-release, and the original theatrical promo. Keep-case.
—Mark Bourne

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