Let’s Celebrate Cagney!

These YouTube videos were made several years ago by Melanie and I still love watching them when I need a concentrated dose of Cagney greatness.

Enjoy!

Part 1 of 5

Part 2 of 5

Part 3 of 5

Part 4 of 5

Part 5 of 5

Where it all started

I consider myself a big entertainment buff and have been since I was thirteen. I try to keep myself informed about what’s going on in the biz, read my entertainment sites, read the magazines, listen to the news. I’ve been this way since I was thirteen. In fact, I can even give you an exact date if you need it (August 30, 1985).

Before I saw Back to the Future on that fateful August night, I had my favorite actors – Shaun Cassidy was the first actor I can remember singling out and then Tom Hanks when he was on Bosom Buddies – but my ‘fanship’ of those two was nothing compared to what happened when I finally noticed Michael J. Fox.

If you don’t believe me, check this out. Yeah. That’s my website. I’m not ashamed of it – a little defensive, maybe – but never ashamed.

After becoming the uber-geek-fan of MJF back in 1985, I started reading every teen magazine my parents would let me buy, attempting to keep abreast of all things Michael J. Fox. As a result, I started following other ‘non-threatning boys’ careers such as Ralph Macchio, Ricky Schroeder and Kirk Cameron. I read most of those magazines from cover to cover and eventually started reading more grown-up, more reputable publications as well. I just wanted to know what was going on and after a few years, it wasn’t just those cute boys I was interested in.

However, my obsession with all-things-MJF did not stop just because my interests were expanding. Because of my teenage angst obsession, I started trying things those fan magazines said he liked. I even tried Linguini in Clam sauce, for cripes sake – and that was some of the nastiest stuff I ever tasted. Ugh!

He was often quoted as saying he was a big James Cagney fan. I had never even heard of James Cagney so I had no idea what he was all about. And so, one Friday night in Southeast Texas, the local t.v. station had a James Cagney film on their schedule – Something to Sing About. Fortunately, I wasn’t one of those kids that wouldn’t watch anything in black and white – I watched Mr. Ed every night on Nick-at-Nite – and I watched it. And loved it.

It snowballed after that and now I’m a huge fan of classic films of all genres – musicals, comedies, dramas, film noir, gangsters – you name it. If I happen across anything in black and white on television, I’ll stop to see what it is or who’s in it. I won’t always do that for color films.

I never really met many others who were into films, music, books and television the way I was. I feel extremely lucky that I met a man who is just as interested as I am. I’m doubly fortunate in that we have a lot of the same likes, but we also have many different likes. Before I met my husband, I had never heard of Bruce Campbell and I wouldn’t have been able to name Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee if you showed me their pictures. Now, I can’t imagine my entertainment world without them. And while I’ll never really feel the need to ever see The Girl Hunters ever again, I am honestly glad that I at least saw it once.

It’s not the most important area of my life and I know that it’s not as important as trying to keep out economy out of another great depression but I’m glad that I have plenty of places to go whenever things get tough. I can watch a movie, read a book, listen to some music and even though the problems may not go away, I almost always feel better able to face that problem. Even though entertainment doesn’t rank up there with world peace, it’s still pretty consequential.

So, my thanks go out to Mr. Fox. He changed my life in many ways and for most of those changes, I’m still grateful.

All singing, all dancing, all blazing roscoes

I’m not feeling well today and i’m stuck at home in bed so I thought I’d make another entry in my ‘series’ of favorites. Today’s entry is the third actor in my trio of number ones – James Cagney.

James CagneyTwo posts ago I told how I first became interested in James Cagney via Michael J. Fox. As I wrote then, my first encounter with James Cagney was not through a gangster film filled with sneers, smacks on the chin or the ventilation of snitch-filled car trunks. Mine was of a short, well-mannered man in a tux dancing around an overly-done art-deco night club. Something to Sing About is not one of Cagney’s best films, but I’ve always liked it very much.

After I saw that movie back in high school, I didn’t really go out looking for Cagney films. I did, however, watch them when I happened upon them. The second Cagney film I saw was (a badly colorized version of) Yankee Doodle Dandy while I was in college. This one wasn’t hard to come by – it plays on many stations every Independence Day. I liked this one even more than Something to Sing About and I was a little miffed at my roommate at the time who made fun of his stiff-legged dancing. His style wasn’t as graceful as Astaire, but that didn’t make it bad and I liked it quite a bit.

Let a Smile Be Your UmbrellaIt wasn’t until a few years later, when I did start seeking out Cagney films, that I finally saw the type of movie Cagney is most famous for and, to be honest, I don’t remember which one it was. Maybe The Roaring Twenties but I know it wasn’t Public Enemy. The first time I saw Public Enemy I was a little shocked at how brutal it was (this was before I knew about ‘pre-code’ films and how they differed from the ‘post-code’ films I was used to seeing) and just how damned scary Cagney could be. Before these gangster films, the worst I had seen Cagney’s characters behave was due to an overabundance of self-confidence.

The Oklahoma KidI love Cagney’s gangster films – or, at least, I love him in these films – but I personally prefer the non-gangster roles. The musicals, the comedies, the straight dramas. When I hear people talk of Cagney today, it’s always in reference to his tough guy roles.

Does anyone know what a Jimmy Cagney love scene is? It’s when Cagney lets the good guy live.” – Shoot ’em Up, 2007

His comedic, (non bad-guy) dramatic and musical talents are rarely mentioned in pop culture. I know what a James Cagney love scene is and so did Ann Sheridan, Bette Davis, Rita Hayworth, Olivia DeHaviland and countless other leading ladies.

(As an aside, I actually really like the movie that quote up there is from. It’s spoken by a really, really bad man so I can’t expect him to know any better.)

To get a really well-rounded look-see at what Cagney was really all about, I would recommend the following:

  • Public Enemy (as Tom Powers) – Cagney’s break-out role. He was originally cast as the ‘good’ best friend but it was soon clear that he was better suited to the intense role of Tom Powers.
  • The St. Louis Kid (as Eddie Kennedy) – A schizophrenic film that starts off as a romantic comedy but turns into a heavy pro-labor union drama.
  • The Irish in Us (as Danny O’Hara) – Sharing the screen with two of his best friends, Pat O’Brien and Frank McHugh, Cagney plays the irresponsible brother to Pat O’Brien’s good brother – a pattern that repeated in almost all the movies they shared (one really good exception – Torrid Zone)
  • Angels With Dirty Faces (as Rocky Sullivan) – One of Cagney’s most famous roles, which is very much deserved. He is again playing a gangster but this time he is endangering children by encouraging them to follow in his footsteps. He best friend, the priest (Pat O’Brien once again) who looks over these youths, asks him to make a huge sacrifice that goes against Rocky’s very being.
  • The Oklahoma Kid (as Jim Kincaid, The Oklahoma Kid) – Yep, this is a western. Cagney made a few more westerns, but not until he was much older. Cagney’s image was very urbane, but his first choice of career was to be a farmer so this role actually felt natural to him and he was disappointed that the public didn’t agree. The bad guy in this movie (complete with an all-black outfit, including his hat) was equally urbane Humphrey Bogart. Not a bad movie and a hoot to watch just for the stark differences in role types for both of these icons.
  • The Strawberry Blonde (as T.L. ‘Biff’ Grimes) – A romantic comedy, one of the few Cagney made, this is one of my favorite Cagney films period. The plot isn’t all that original (boy loves the wrong girl – the right girl loves him – the boy finally realizes the wrong girl is an utter bitch and falls for the right girl after having been married to the right girl for years) but the period setting and wonderful performances help it rise above all of this. Rita Hayworth is utterly gorgeous (of course) and can even make the beautiful Olivia DeHaviland look plan in comparison, but we all know which one is worth Cagney’s time, right?
  • Yankee Doodle Dandy (as George M. Cohan) – Everyone knows this one, but in case you don’t this is the biographical film of one of the stage performer/composer/director greats. Fred Astaire was Cohan’s first choice, but Cagney was the bettert choice for the role. Fred was a good actor, but Cagney was much better at playing the brash, egotistical, in-your-face – but still likeable – jerk.
  • White Heat (as Cody Jarrett) – Yes, another gangster role but this time he’s a ruthless, insane Mama’s boy – a dangerous combination if there ever was one. This was Cagney’s return to a genre he wasn’t thrilled to go back to, but at least he came back with a bang…literally.
  • Love Me or Leave Me (as Martin Snyder) – Another bio-pic about a stage man, but this time he’s an ‘agent’ and not the performer. This movie is more about Ruth Etting, played wonderfully by Doris Day, than it is about Snyder, but Cagney’s performance as the brutal and insanely jealous manager is as scary of his role as Tom Powers in Public Enemy. Only, this time, he charms his prey to trap them instead of gunning them down.

There are many others that are just as good, but the above roles are different enough from the others and do a good job at showing just what Cagney was capable of. Not all of these films are available on DVD but you might be able to catch them on Turner Classic Movies if you keep an eye out. Hopefully they will all be available soon.

Something to Sing About

A few of my favorite…performers

I thought I’d give a ‘theme week’ a try. Who knows – it might make me post on a more regular basis. But I doubt it. *lame grin*

So, I’ll start with the man who helped introduce me to the wonderful world of classic films for which I will be forever grateful. Without that introduction I would be devoid of my two of my three favorite actors, Fred Astaire and James Cagney.

Michael J. Fox on the SetSo, my thanks goes out to Michael J. Fox. Before I saw Back to the Future I had my favorites – Shaun Cassidy was the first actor I can remember singling out and then Tom Hanks when he was on Bosom Buddies – but my ‘fanship’ of those two can never compare to what happened after I saw Back to the Future.

If you don’t believe me, check this out. Yeah. That’s my website. I’m not ashamed of it – a little defensive, maybe – but never ashamed.

After becoming the uber-geek-fan of MJF back in 1985, I started trying out things those fan magazines said he liked. I even tried Linguini in Clam sauce, for cripes sake – and that was some of the nastiest stuff I ever tasted. Ugh!

He was often quoted as saying he was a big James Cagney fan. I had never even heard of James Cagney so I had no idea what he was all about. And so, one Friday night in Southeast Texas, the local t.v. station had a James Cagney film on their schedule – Something to Sing About. Fortunately, I wasn’t one of those kids that wouldn’t watch anything in black and white – I watched Mr. Ed every night on Nick at Nite – and I watched it. And loved it.

It snowballed after that and now I’m a huge fan of classic films and especially musicals. And despite the fact that Cagney is most famous for his gangster, tough guy roles, I will always think of him as a song and dance man.

I was an obsessive fan of MJF – I’ll be the first to admit it – and I’m sure I drove my parents insane with my never-ending quest to see absolutely everything he had ever appeared in. (I even have a copy of his appearance on ‘Here’s Boomer.’) I haven’t seen everything, but I’m still working on it. And while my fansite may make some doubt this, I’m not that obsessive uber-geek-fan anymore. My respect for MJF is now more about his acting ability than how cute he is. He’s only gotten better as he’s gotten older and I sincerely hope that someday, he’ll be back on the big or small screen entertaining all of us again.