Quick Daily Review #144: The Public Enemy (1931)


The Public Enemy (1931)

This is a story of two kids, Tom Powers and Matt Doyle, who begin a life in crime early on. One of them winds up going straight and becomes a policemen, the other winds up a crook. You can guess which one James Cagney plays. This movie is over eighty years old but still feels fresher and more original than at least half of the movies I see on a given year. The aesthetics and cinematography are astoundingly good for a movie this old, and the movie flows like a modern Scorsese gangster film, which of course is no coinky dink as Scorsese admits to patterning a lot of his own style after movies such as this. The infamous grapefruit scene where Cagney lets Joan Blondell have it is one of many scenes that remind you that this movie is very much a pre-Hayes Code picture. I am of a split mind on the whole Hayes Code era debate. On the one hand it is complete BS to tell artists how they can make their art, on the other hand, the strict draconian nonsense of the code did lead to a lot of increased creativity that is absent in a lot of modern movies that are sometimes vulgar and violent just for the sake of it. This movie is violent, but that is because it is about violence, and violent people. This movie also has many of the most legendary scenes in movie history, and some of my personal favorites, such as the shot of Cagney walking directly into the camera, his hands in his pockets, as epic levels of rain fall on to his fedora and the surrounding city streets. He enters a building full of hoodlums. Several shots ring out and one tortured scream. Cagney exits back out into the rain, stumbles a few blocks, before collapsing uttering the final classic line “I ain’t so tough”…. This is a movie everyone should see.


About William McPherson (359 Articles)
Professional freelance writer, who also writes blogs, reviews, and assorted nonsense at

4 Comments on Quick Daily Review #144: The Public Enemy (1931)

  1. I had the privilege of analysing this film, alongside Little Caesar and Scarface for my University dissertation. My favourites of the three by far and it defines a generation of cinema beautifully

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a hell of a film to do a dissertation on. When I get more time and can go back to more substantial reviews I’d love to go in deeper on this one. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It was a lot of fun. It was for a History degree so I had to go into a lot of detail regarding the context, i.e. prohibition and repeal and The Great Depression but the actual film analysis stuff was what I really wanted to get on with!


  2. Love it when I see the EPIC MASTERPIECE!!! I always say it out loud hahaha

    Liked by 1 person

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