James Cagney received his third and final Oscar nomination for portraying gangster Martin Snyder in Love me or Leave Me.
Cagney was not a stranger to gangsters, having played them all the time throughout his career. His voice, his shape, his face just always worked well for the part. Snyder here is not the most violent gangster he played, or the most evil, in fact this is almost a lighter gangster for him, well until later in the film when the tone of the film becomes darker.
Something interesting about this gangster is that Snyder is that he is called "the gimp" therefore Cagney always walks with a limp. For Cagney I feel is a huge hindrance. That is because Cagney is such a physical actor in most of his performances. Cagney usually uses his whole body and his physical motions quite effectively in his performances, here he cannot do that due to the limp that the character has. Now this is not a huge problem since most performances from most actors do not contain such physicality, but still when Cagney does not do it, it feels like he is hindered.
Cagney's role here is a bit simple as the gangster. He as written is not too complicated. He is an easily irritated gangster who wants things one way his way. His character does not really change all that much through the film except getting more jealous and attempting to be more controlling. I must say Cagney does fit the part there is no doubt about that. He just looks and feels the part throughout the film. He has the right way of acting tough, and talking out of the side of his mouth, as he yells. His level of meanness is basically consistent throughout the film, except in one scene where he won't take no for an answer anymore from Ruth. Cagney actually in that scene is rather chilling. Most of the time though he is a pretty lightweight meanie, since the film tries to be that way most of the time.
Cagney shows the controlling nature of Marty very well, and certainly is always believable with his hair trigger into anger. Cagney does make it believable that Marty can get things done the way he is and can influence Ruth the way he does especially in a scene where he will not let her blow him off as she had done several times before. He gives Marty the right confidence and demeanor, with the right pathetic nature. The part though overall is not that much because Snyder is mostly just perpetual in his anger except for the very last scene of the film. I feel Cagney tries to add more from than in the words of the film showing some ambition in the character through his face, but still that is limited by the film. His biggest scene where he changes a little is the final scene where Marty must swallow his pride finally. Cagney is just fine in this scene just as he is in the role. He never is amazing, and a part like this seems pretty easy for Cagney, but still Cagney certainly fulfills the requirements of the limited role.