Crime Wave
eBook - ePub

Crime Wave

Howard Hughes

  1. 264 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Crime Wave

Howard Hughes

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About This Book

Crime movies inhabit dark and desperate worlds, yet they account for many of Hollywood's most triumphant successes. In full acknowledgement of this achievement, "Crime Wave" offers an authoritative and informative, stimulating and entertaining guide to the crime movie phenomenon, from its early days to the present, charting its history and celebrating the people who have given it a special and enduring place in cinema goers' affections. Chapters focus on landmark Hollywood films - from 1931's "The Public Enemy", through "The Maltese Falcon", "Point Blank", "Dirty Harry", "The Godfather" trilogy and "Goodfellas", to "LA Confidential" and "Oceans 11" - telling their stories and on the way discussing many more crime movies, both major and lesser known. "Crime Wave" represents and investigates gangster and heist movies, blaxploitation and noir, murder mysteries, vehicles for vigilante or buddy cops, even a gangster love story. It features biographies and filmographies detailing the key participants and background details of the film's making, locations and sets.
It also explores each film's sources and influences, its impact on the crime genre and current fashion, including spin-offs, copies and sequels. It examines the films' themes, style and box office fortunes. Detailed cast list information is provided for each of the main featured films. Written with passion, for those who love this cinema, "Crime Wave" is the perfect partner in crime.

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I.B. Tauris
The Public Enemy (1931)
DIRECTOR – William A. Wellman
STORY – John Bright and Kubec Glasmon
SCREENPLAY – Kubec Glasmon, John Bright and Harvey Thew
EDITOR – Ed McCormick
COSTUME DESIGNERS – Earl Luick and Edward Stevenson
Black and white
Interiors filmed at Warner Bros
A Warner Bros-Vitaphone production
Released by Warner Bros
84 minutes
James Cagney (Tom Powers)/Jean Harlow (Gwen Allen)/Edward Woods (Matt Doyle)/Joan Blondell (Mamie)/Beryl Mercer (Ma Powers)/Donald Cook (Mike Powers, Tom’s brother)/Mae Clarke (Kitty)/Mia Marvin (Jane)/Leslie Fenton (Samuel ‘Nails’ Nathan)/Robert Emmett O’Connor (Patrick J. Ryan, alias Paddy Ryan)/Rita Flynn (Molly Doyle)/Frank Coglan Jnr (Tom as a boy)/Frankie Darrow (Matt as a boy)/Adele Watson (Mrs Doyle)/Murray Kinnell (Putty Nose)/Clark Burroughs (Dutch, member of Ryan’s gang)/Robert Homans (Police Officer Pat Burke)/Mia Marvin (Jane, girl at hideout)/Purnell Pratt (Tom’s father)/William H. Strauss (Pawnbroker robbed by Tom)/Lee Phelps (Bullied bartender)
* * *
Rico Bandello, alias Little Caesar, may have beaten Tom Powers, alias The Public Enemy, into theatres, but James Cagney’s kinetic portrayal of a psychopathic gangster is pre-eminent among the ‘rise and fall’ tales of gangsterdom that dominated thirties Hollywood productions. Powers’s final revenge for the death of his best friend, walking into the lions’ den with a pair of pistols and subsequently staggering into the gutter, bullet-ridden, muttering, ‘I ain’t so tough’, is far more effective than Edward G. Robinson’s reedy ‘Mother of God – is this the end of Rico?’ demise. Cagney is the movie gangster and The Public Enemy is a pivotal film, though it was not Cagney’s first contribution to the genre.
James Cagney was born James Francis Cagney Jnr in New York in 1899; he grew up on the Lower East Side in Yorkville and knew very well the kind of upbringing and background that could ‘turn kids bad’. He worked in a variety of jobs, including boxing, but eventually joined a revue, finding his way into the chorus on Broadway in 1920 and from there graduated to lead roles. He appeared in the musical Penny Arcade and his first film appearance was recreating this role. Warners’ film version, spicily retitled Sinners’ Holiday (1930), was a carnival romance between a barker and a penny arcade girl. Bit-parts for Cagney followed – his next film was Doorway to Hell (1930 – released as the much lighter-sounding A Handful of Clouds in the UK), a topical tale of bootleggers, released a month before Little Caesar changed the gangster movie map. Lew Ayres starred as the kingpin, with Cagney as his henchman. Cagney also made Other Men’s Women (1931 – a railroad drama) and The Millionaire (1931 – Cagney’s first comedy), before screen-testing for the role of Matt Doyle in The Public Enemy. Young actor Edward Woods was to play the lead, Tom Powers, but almost immediately director William A. Wellman realised the actors were in the wrong roles and reversed them. The casting swap of Cagney and Woods is most apparent with the two young actors who were chosen to play Tom and Matt as children. Frankie Darro (as Matt) is a dead ringer for a young Cagney, while Frank Coglan Jnr (as Tom) closely resembles Woods.
The Public Enemy was based on the novelette ‘Beer and Blood’ by Baltimore-born John Bright, who had been a crime reporter in Chicago, the setting for his story. Bright’s unauthorised biography of Chicago’s mayor, ‘Hizzoner Big Bill Thomson’, led to him being sued by the mayor. The Public Enemy was his first film script. He wrote it with Kubec Glasmon, a Polish-born pharmacist, who became his writing partner at Warners, with the novel’s dialogue adapted by Harvey Thew.
In the story, Tom Powers and Matt Doyle grow up together in Chicago. As slum urchins they fall into petty crime and when they grow up become involved with a small-timer named Putty Nose, who convinces them to take part in a robbery on the Northwestern Fur Trading Company. The job is a mess and in making their escape, Tom kills a policeman. Putty Nose vanishes and leaves Tom and Matt to face the music. The pair become involved with Irish racketeer Paddy Ryan, a bootlegger and liquor-runner, who is in business with Nails Nathan, a dapper mobster from ‘the West Side’. Tom and Matt rise through the ranks of racketeers and become rich and notorious (when they catch up with Putty Nose, Tom executes him); all the while, Tom tells his mother that he is working in local politics, until his disapproving elder brother Mike discovers otherwise. Nails Nathan is killed in a freak riding accident and rival ‘Schemer’ Burns and his mobsters try to muscle in on his turf. In an ambush, Matt is machine-gunned down and Tom goes looking for revenge, attacking Burns’s headquarters and killing the kingpin, but getting badly injured. While he recovers in hospital, Tom is kidnapped by the Burns faction; one night, as his mother prepares the bed for his homecoming, his brother answers the door and Tom’s trussed-up corpse flops face down into the hallway.
The Great American Depression of the thirties, with falling output and massive unemployment (at some points 33 per cent of the population), coincided with the new vogue for gangster movies, spearheaded by Warner Brothers’ Studio. The recent advent of sound meant that you could hear screeching wheels, approaching sirens and Thomson Submachine-gun fire and the wisecracking, quick-fire dialogue crackled with menace. When The Public Enemy was made, the US was still under the rules of the Volstead Prohibition (1920–1933) and the protagonists’ activities were remarkably contemporary. Jack Warner liked to make films that had contemporary social thrust. The Prohibition act outlawed the manufacture, distribution or retail of alcohol. This led to bootlegging, or ‘alky-cooking’, as depicted in The Public Enemy, where organised crime, financed by illegal booze, resulted in inter-gang rivalry and turf wars (a bootlegger was originally a wild-west term referring to the way traders carried bottles of firewater in their boots to sell to the Indians). The Public Enemy is set between 1909 and 1920. The date captions include 1915 (the year of the fur heist), wartime 1917 (the US declaration and Mike enlisting in the Marines) and the Prohibition scenes in 1920, which begin with a sign in the Family Liquor Store – ‘Owing to prohibition, our entire stock must be sold by midnight’ – prompting a stampede by the locals to fill every available vessel with ‘hooch’.
Early thirties Warners promotional portrait, published in the Picturegoer series, of fresh-faced James Cagney: Public Enemy Number One.
Director William Augustus Wellman had previously made the silent World War I film Wings, which won the very first Best Picture Academy Award in 1927 (it was re-released in 1929 with sound). In The Public Enemy Wellman cast Liverpudlian Leslie Fenton as spruce gangster Nails Nathan; Fenton himself later became a director in the fifties. Mae Clarke, who in the most famous scene in the film has a grapefruit thrust in her face, also appeared in James Whales’s Frankenstein (1931), as Henry Frankenstein’s fiancée, Elizabeth. Errol Flynn lookalike Edward Woods, the victim of Cagney’s promotion to leading man, was only appearing in his second film (his debut had been in Mother’s Cry – 1930) and his film career was short-lived. By contrast, Joan Blondell, as Matt’s girl Mamie, had appeared with Cagney in Sinners’ Holiday (her Warners’ debut) and Other Men’s Women, and was one of the most popular and prolific actresses of the era.
The most famous of Cagney’s co-stars was Jean Harlow, the original platinum blonde screen goddess, who had caused a stir in Hell’s Angels (1930) – her looks were so influential that the two movies she made after The Public Enemy were Goldie and Platinum Blonde (both 1931). She died tragically in 1937, aged 26, of a cerebral oedema (fluid on the brain), but her iconic impact was immense.
In 1928, Warners had bought the Stanley Corporation of America, owner of 250 cinemas across the US, and First National, another chain. The Public Enemy was filmed at Warner Bros’ Studios between January and February 1931; Vitaphone’s involvement was the relatively current sound-mixing elements and the Vitaphone Orchestra, conducted by David Mendoza, recorded the score. The Warners’ Studios had formerly been First National Studios, which had been wired for sound in 1928. The Public Enemy features several authentic street-scene sets (with drays piled with kegs, a Salvation Army band and kids on the sidewalk swigging beer) and some stock location footage of railways, cattle pens and thriving streets choked with trams, automobiles, horse-drawn carriages and pedestrians. Interiors accurately evoked the era, with one sign in a spit-and-sawdust social club warning: ‘Don’t Spit On the Floor!’
During the making of the film, Cagney had a near miss during a machine-gun ambush; real bullets peppered the cornerstone of a building and one almost hit the actor (a hazard of filmmaking that recurred in Angels With Dirty Faces). The scene when Cagney pushes a grapefruit into Mae Clarke’s face, after she accuses him of being unfaithful, was based on a real-life incident involving Chicago gangster Hymie Weiss, who used an omelette. On set it was decided that a grapefruit would be a good substitute. There are three versions of how the scene was filmed. Initially Cagney was going to throw it, but Wellman and Cagney changed their minds when Clarke would only allow them one take. Alternatively, Clarke had a cold and wanted to fake the shot with a stand-in, but the director insisted they do it for real, much to Clarke’s displeasure. Finally, the most widely believed and plausible version was that Clarke and Cagney were larking around on set and the scene was never meant to appear in the finished film.
A brief foreword introduces the film’s moral stance on ‘the evils associated with prohibition’. Following the titles (accompanied by a staccato march arrangement of the standard ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’) we are introduced to each character, captioned with their character names: Tom mimes a punch (a gesture he repeats throughout the film) and Matt wipes his nose on his sleeve (his trademark, presumably in a joking effort to ‘keep it clean’). Another caption then says the film is about to ‘honestly depict an environment that exists today in a certain strata of American life’, rather than ‘glorify the hoodlum or the criminal’. In the US, the Hayes Code was introduced in 1930, which led to much more stringent censorship restrictions; until then films were covered by a simple do’s and don’ts outline. Under the new guidelines, The Public Enemy, without such a disclaimer, would have clearly breached the code.
Playing safe, Warner Brothers Pictures claim that the story is true, but ‘all names and characters appearing therein are purely fictional’. Many of the film’s events were based on Charles Dion ‘Deannie’ O’Banion, an Irish Catholic mobster, and his gang, the Irish North Siders in Chicago (O’Banion was executed in classic gangland fashion in his florist’s shop, when a rival mobster’s men called in to collect a specially ordered wreath). In The Public Enemy, the brutal scene when Tom Powers shoots Rajah, the horse that kicked Nails Nathan in the head, is inspired by a true incident from the career of Louis ‘Two Gun’ Altieri, an O’Banion hoodlum. Nails Nathan was based on Samuel J. ‘Nails’ Morton; Morton was killed when his horse threw him and trampled him to death. Altieri, plus three other O’Banion men, kidnapped the horse, took it to the scene of the accident and shot it dead in revenge.
The central relationship between Tom and Matt, from teens to tombstone, is well delineated by Cagney and Woods. They begin as kids, having a crafty swig of beer on the street outside a saloon and with petty pilfering from department stores, but with maturity comes responsibility and far more serious crimes. The fur robbery is scotched by edgy Tom taking a shot at a stuffed bear caught in the torchlight. The shot alerts the police, who shoot the getaway driver, Lippy Larry. As they escape, Tom commits his first murder, with a Smith and Wesson given to him by Putty Nose – an exploitative and untrustworthy fence who even tried to swindle them when they were kids. As Tom notes later, ‘You taught us how to cheat, steal and kill...If it hadn’t been for you, we might’ve been on the level.’ Following the fur robbery, Larry’s wake is a poignant moment that sees sheepish Tom and Matt introduced as ‘some of Larry’s nicer friends’, while elder relatives tut that Larry was ‘a no-good boy’.
Prompted by alcohol being sold for $30 a gallon, they begin in the illicit liquor trade. Working for Irish bootlegger Paddy Ryan, they set up a brewing company (Lehman’s) with Nails Nathan and his pack of hoods, making sure that local pubs and saloons ‘buy our beer or they don’t buy any beer’. Tom and Matt are the ‘trouble squad’, the muscle, threatening bartenders that if they don’t comply, they will drop by and ‘kick your teeth out, one at a time’. Their first foray into bootleg robbery is one of the film’s highlights. Having cased the layout while working as deliverymen, the gang arrives at the booze warehouse in a tanker truck marked GASOLINE. Two cohorts pose as telegraph men and climb into the building, put taps on the storage kegs and syphon the beer into the tanker with a length of hosepipe.
Tom’s relationship with women (his mother excepted) and the awkwardness of the romantic scenes are The Public Enemy’s biggest failing. Apart from his grapefruit-à-tête with Kitty, Tom’s snappy dating technique sees him uttering the immortal lines, ‘Hello baby, you’re a swell dish – I think I’m going to go for you!’ with his ‘date’ seemingly having little say in the matter. His relationship with Harlow, as out-of-town Texan ‘merry-go-round’ Gwen, is more complicated, but he certainly isn’t in love, and she eventually decides to skip town. By contrast, Matt and Mamie get married; ‘Matt’s decided to take something lawful...a wife,’ jokes Nails. But the night of their celebration is the night they run into Putty Nose again and the party is forestalled. It seems the bond between the two men is the singularly most important factor in their lives.
As the voice of the film’s moral stance, so as not to make The Public Enemy too attractive to moviegoers deprived of drink and low on cash, Wellman has Tom’s brother Mike. Their father is a police officer, but even when they were kids it was Tom to whom he had to ‘give the strap’. As adults, with their father dead, Mike discovers Tom’s nefarious activities from policeman Pat Burke and refuses any kindness from his brother; even a keg at Mike’s homecoming from the war is described as being filled with ‘beer and blood’. Later, Tom brings his family some money, but Mike has other ideas – ‘Get an earful of this: that money’s blood money and we want no part of it.’ Tom says money is valueless to him (which suggests he does his job for enjoyment). His brother answers, ‘With no heart and no brains it’s all you’ve’ll need it.’ Unfortunately this is not an entirely convincing argument: Mike works as a ‘ding-ding’ on tramcars, joins the war-bound Marines, comes back a shaking wreck and goes to night school (in Tom’s words, ‘learning how to be poor’). Tom meanwhile drinks beer and champagne throughout the decade-long drought, gets the girls, dances in tuxedos and drives the largest convertible ever seen on film. But his brother’s pontificating is shown to be moral, when Tom’s corpse is delivered to their door...

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Dedication page
  3. Title page
  4. Copyright page
  5. Contents
  6. List of Illustrations
  7. Preface
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. Criminal Record: An Introduction to Crime Movies
  10. Crime Wave Top Tens
  11. 1 ‘I ain’t so tough’
  12. 2 ‘Just rushing towards death’
  13. 3 ‘The shortest farewells are best’
  14. 4 ‘Made it Ma! Top of the world!’
  15. 5 ‘If you want fresh air, don’t look for it in this town’
  16. 6 ‘The liar’s kiss that says I love you’
  17. 7 ‘First is first and second is nobody’
  18. 8 ‘Somebody’s got to pay’
  19. 9 ‘We ain’t heading nowhere, we’re just running from’
  20. 10 ‘We have all the time in the world’
  21. 11 ‘I’m visiting relatives...a death in the family’
  22. 12 ‘We’re all on the hustle’
  23. 13 ‘Do I feel lucky?’
  24. 14 ‘I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse’
  25. 15 ‘Forget it, Jake, it’s...’
  26. 16 ‘Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer’
  27. 17 ‘Fat Moe’s bone-yard boys’
  28. 18 ‘There’s no more heroes left in the world’
  29. 19 ‘I always wanted to be a gangster’
  30. 20 ‘Mon amour...l’aventure commence’
  31. 21 ‘Off the record, on the QT and very hush-hush’
  32. 22 ‘You’re either in or you’re out’
  33. Crimography: the Crime Wave Filmography
  34. Bibliography and Sources