Saturday, 5 March 2016

Alternate Best Actor 1939: James Cagney in The Roaring Twenties

James Cagney did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Eddie Bartlett in The Roaring Twenties.

The Roaring Twenties is a pretty good gangster film about a man trying to make it to top through selling liquor during prohibition.

James Cagney obviously is no stranger to playing gangster roles, but this one's variation comes through the way Eddie Bartlett gets into the rackets to begin with. In The Public Enemy he was already an ambitious hood, in Angels with Dirty Faces he was literally the kid on the wrong side of the rail road track, and later on in White Heat he was already a psychopath. Here Eddie Bartlett starts out as a soldier in World War I, and only comes across crime as a way to make up for the time he lost while in a fox hole. In the early scenes of the film Cagney is good at just playing Eddie a pretty average guy who just is trying to survive in the war, and then later on attempts to find his place back in society which is harder than he expects. Cagney's very good in that he actually makes Eddie's path to crime a rather sympathetic one, by showing the path to be as almost something which he stumbles upon it. There is not an obvious ambition that Cagney portrays as Eddie begins to get involved in the business instead he shows it to be a very honest reaction of a man finding something he can do, no more than that.

Cagney does not compromise the unassuming beginning for Eddie even as he goes about becoming a gangster by setting up his own club, and furthering the illegal operations. Cagney plays Eddie from the start as a charming enough guy who seems conducive to friendship as long as you don't give him a reason to dislike you. There is definite likability that Cagney captures well with Eddie and I particularly like the chemistry he seems to strike up with anyone in his group particularly Eddie's old buddy Danny played by Frank McHugh and Eddie's bootlegging business partner Panama played by Gladys George. Cagney keeps Eddie, even when he is becoming a criminal, still  a rather endearing sort as he keeps the central idea behind the cheat of an unpopular law rather than Eddie being a full time villain in the least. As Cagney did in many of his gangster roles, Cagney does not condemn his character for having some moral corruption, despite him being condemned by the codes and standards of the time. Cagney never makes Eddie just a thug and instead presents him as someone one can easily identify with given the situation he is in.

Now this is not to say Cagney keeps Eddie a constant throughout the film by any means. As the film progresses and Eddie becomes more powerful as a gangster Cagney effectively suggests the way Eddie does slowly grow a bit of an ego through a willingness to embrace all elements of the life. Again Cagney does this in a gradual fashion as it never feels as though suddenly Eddie has betrayed himself and instead manages to show the way the lure of the criminal life harms him. Cagney's good as he begins to show that sort of gangster confidence that narrows his personality as a man to the point that he fails to notice a few things the first being that his girlfriend Jean (Priscilla Lane) does not really care for him and perhaps more pressing that his later business partner George (Humphrey Bogart) is a bit of psychopath. Cagney still brings the needed nuance to to Eddie importantly an importantly conveys the revulsion in Eddie as he sees just how cruel George is. However with Eddie's time in the life becomes a capable gangster himself, when dealing with his rivals in the industry. Now these scenes of course are always great for Cagney as he's absolutely in his comfort zone. No one quite threatens and stares down as well as Cagney, but he also earned this transition from the less intense Eddie we knew from the beginning of the film.

There is a bit of a change up for Eddie's story as a gangster as he actually is forced to drop out of the life from the end of prohibition and losing his money due to the stock market crash. To make it all worse Jean leaves him as well. Eddie is left with being a taxi driver as his only means of support. Cagney is terrific in showing just the worn out husk of a man that Eddie has becomes after losing everything that he believed made himself great. Cagney's very moving though by alluding within his sorrow there remains a better man than when he was the king of world. Now here is when the marvel of Cagney's work comes in this film but really all of his best gangster turns, White Heat included despite playing a psychopath. That being he allows Eddie to be more than just a series of gangster mannerisms and a tough exterior. Cagney as per usual reveals really the man within the story. He avoids just being just a two dimensional caricature for the sake of a morality lesson. Cagney finds something more and that's the case here too as he so brilliantly rips your heart right out and you did not even see it coming. By the end of the film Cagney has carried us through Eddie's story and really made him a man to care about despite his shortcomings. When Eddie must meet his fate as a gangster it is made surprisingly poignant because Cagney showed that he was always more than that.

46 comments:

Calvin Law said...

Another performance which solidifes him as one of my all-time favourites. Great review Louis.

mcofra7 said...

Has Louis given his top scenes of all time? I feel like he has, but I can't seem to find it

Anonymous said...

He was great. We'll be seeing more of him in the bonus rounds and I still wish for him to be moved up to a 5 for White Heat. Great review.
Louis: Rating and thoughts on Bogart.

Michael Patison said...

Louis: I was reading your review of Disraeli, and while I haven't seen the film, I totally agree with you about Disraeli's relationship with Gladstone and now really want to see a film centered on it. I was thinking either Brendan Gleeson or Michael Gambon as Gladstone and perhaps Ian McKellen as Disraeli (Ralph Fiennes and Daniel Day-Lewis has also crossed my mind). I was and am having trouble thinking of a director, though. I was considering Thomas Vinterberg since I personally thought he did such an excellent job with Far from the Madding Crowd. The obvious problem to me is that the current directors who tend to do period pieces just aren't very good directors (Tom Hooper, mainly). Ang Lee came to mind because his direction of Sense and Sensibility was sensational and incredibly underrated and because he is adept at so many different genres. Jane Campion also crossed my mind because of The Piano, but more importantly Bright Star. Mike Leigh would also be interesting. But as you can see, I am not certain on anyone.

What do you think about any and all of my choices? And what would your choices be?

Calvin Law said...

It's a shame they never got round to doing a biopic of the akin in the 1970s or so, since Alec Guinness and Ralph Richardson would've been perfect as Disraeli and Gladstone, respectively.

Gambon or Gleeson would be great Gladstones (late Alan Rickman would've been perfect too), and Disraeli's a bit tougher because he had such a distinctive look about him, McKellen and Day-Lewis would be great choices (Fiennes could work too with some ageing makeup). Mark Rylance could do something with the role too.

May I suggest for a director, Peter Weir? Just on a complete whim since he's so good at capturing particular periods of time. Also since he's a fairly crucial figure of the time, Rory McCann as Charles Stewart Parnell.

GM said...

Rating and thoughts on Gladys George?

Michael Patison said...

Calvin: I totally agree Disraeli is the harder cast. I actually think Rickman might have been a terrific choice for him rather than for Gladstone. I had completely forgotten Weir and he would be a great choice.

To be honest, I'd just love to see a biopic (or 2) centering on Gladstone from his start as Chancellor in Aberdeen's government until his death. It'd obviously be long but fascinating (admittedly I am partial since British history 1832-1900 is my favorite period of history ever). Some potential casting choices:
-Gladstone: obviously the most important, and I'm not entirely sure. Probably Gleeson. The key is finding someone who looks about 40-50 at the start and can be made up well to look convincing
-Disraeli: Daniel Day-Lewis
-Charles Stewart Parnell: Rory McCann
-Queen Victoria: Anna Maxwell Martin
-Prince Albert: Ben Whishaw
-Catherine Gladstone: Kelly Macdonald
-Derby: David Bradley
-John Russell: Michael Sheen
-Aberdeen: Clive Owen
-Palmerston: Tom Wilkinson
-Isaac Butt: Albert Finney
-Hartington: Richard Armitage
-Salisbury: Jared Harris
-Chinese Gordon: Ben Mendelsohn
-Joseph Chamberlain: Charles Dance
-Keir Hardie: John Hurt
-Justin McCarthy: Bernard Hill

Anonymous said...

Daniel Day-Lewis as Disraeli is sheer perfection.

Calvin Law said...

What a cast. The only reservation I'd have with Day-Lewis is that he might not consent to taking a secondary lead role (although he did do Gangs of New York so who knows).

Like all your choices and love Isaac Butt/Finney and Victoria/Maxwell Martin in particular. I also love that period in history so hopefully something of the akin gets made. I will say though if someone like Steven Speilberg with his influence wanted to get this made too, I wouldn't object.

Anonymous said...

Calvin: Have you seen Man of the West yet? If so, what is your rating for Cooper?

Alex Marqués said...

Louis: How would you rank your favourite Hardy and Fassbender's performances?

Luke Higham said...

Alex: I'll do it for you.
Hardy:
1. The Revenant
2. Bronson
3. Legend
4. Locke
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
6. The Drop
7. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Fassbender:
1. 12 Years A Slave
2. Macbeth
3. Hunger
4. Shame
5. Inglourious Basterds
6. Steve Jobs
7. Fish Tank

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your ratings for:
Elsa Lanchester in Bride Of Frankensein
Luise Rainer in The Good Earth
Dame May Whitty in Night Must Fall and The Lady Vanishes
Wendy Hiller in Pygmalion (Has she moved up to a 5)
And Lucille La Verne in Snow White And The Seven Dwarves

Anonymous said...

Luke: Rainer, Lanchester and Whitty (Night Must Fall) are 4's. I think Hiller is still a 4,5.

Anonymous said...

Johns Smith: Louis, ratings an toughts on the cast of The Big Chill and Fargo season 2.

Another question Louis, do you believe that Marting Freeman should have won the golden globe for his work in Fargo instead of Billy Bob Thornton?

Luke Higham said...

John:
The Big Chill
Berenger - 4(Berenger has just enough fun with the character's perpetual self loathing toward his on-screen personality. He also though strikes up some convincing and believable chemistry with Williams that is less present romance rather more of old affections)

Close - 3(The only logic to her Oscar nomination is that she was nominated the previous year therefore was the easiest choice out of the cast. Her performance though never really came to life like much of the rest of the cast for me. She played her big emotional moments technically well, but I did not find them particularly cohesive to a whole)

Goldblum - 4(He does not get many "deep" discussions but rather the fairly shallow statements. Goldblum is quite entertaining in his realization of his character's particular ego and lack of any particular shame)

Hurt - 4.5(Hurt was easily MVP for me as he, I feel, he had the best grasp on the material more than anything. He did a great job of showing really just the lack of understanding his character actually has. Hurt made the happier moments, and the sadder ones seem always naturally transition from one another. What was great with Hurt is when his character lashed out Hurt did it with the needed passion, but he always brought a certain hesitation portraying that his character always had a certain doubt over his own words)

Kline - 3(Kline apparently should never do accents because he never does them particularly well. That is unfortunately the case here as well, but past that I still thought he did a decent job of realizing his place as a straight man of sorts while never being entirely boring)

Place - 3.5(I liked her performance as she had the right certain awkwardness throughout as she always implies her character's particular objective while coming to meet the old gang)

Williams - 3.5(I thought she gave a good performance in that I thought she basically checked all the boxes for her character, but I don't know, she was satisfactory but never more than that)

Tilly - 3.5(Her character was somewhat limited, but I like how she kinda had the lack of pretension in her work that properly separated her performance from everyone else. She did the air head thing pretty well without ever overplaying it, and bringing some honest emotion beneath it)

Galloway - 3(He does not get to do much other than be the dopey husband, but he does it well particularly the scene where he talks about children)

Luke Higham said...

Fargo Season 2
Woodbine - (Loved his performance as every one of his scenes was a gem as he does the smooth talking killer, but in no way feels as though he is copying Thornton's performance from the first season. Woodbine finds his own path. Although he certainly has that chilling suave quality to his work, he goes even further with his performance. I loved the underlying eagerness that he brought showing that Milligan actually is trying to prove something, and that even his most cool headed behavior is him trying to be more than he technically is. He finds much more of complexity to the role within him crafting a man who essentially wanted to be a Lorne Malvo or a Anton Chigurh, but maybe is not as good as he thinks he is)

Dunst & Plemons - (Both of their performances together are so perfectly entwined yet completely broken from one another. What connects them is this genuine earnestness in both of them with Plemons showing Ed's enthusiasm to have what seems in reach and then later just to get things back on the track. Dunst within Peggy as she states in her constant quest for her dream of simply attaining something else and becoming what she sees as her better self. Their detachment though is Plemons always plays Ed as wholly sane, technically to fault as he wishes to just protect his family, whereas Dunst leaves Peggy as completely deranged though in a such a peculiar though effective fashion)

Wilson & Danson - (The two were both great at playing two of the least flamboyant characters in the season. The two never felt overshadowed because they were so good in depicting just the straight goodness of their character with such a natural warmth about themselves. The two were very good at having an eloquent yet simple morality that never felt self-righteous, and their indignation towards the bad men is always well earned. Plus the two have a great casually humorous chemistry and they convey so well the two's relationship over the years)

Smart - (Smart's performance is very strong as she does not do the standard mob mother. Instead she finds more variation in his performance. She brings the required strength in the moments of being the mob commander, but I also liked the certain weakness though in some moments as though she isn't perhaps fully up to it as she'd like to be. Then in her scenes with her family she brings an understanding to each of the relationships where there is love, though also always scorn as well as concern. Not a single interaction is ever the same and Smart develops each separate relationship incredibly well.)

Culkin - (A great one episode wonder to be sure. Culkin, in particularly brief time, captures all the ambition in his character that he shows stems from a intense desire to break out of merely being the third son. Then his pivotal scene is brilliantly performed as he makes his actions so tragically absurd by revealing the violence coming from a pathetic desperation rather than a more direct malice)

Calvin Law said...

Anonymous: I have. I'd give Cooper a 4. I seem to like him a lot more than most people on here, definitely very, very miscast but I thought he handled the character with the right sort of presence and style. Julie London was decent but I'd give her just a 3, Lee J. Cobb I would agree with you is the highlight and a strong 4.5 for me. The film as a whole, while I disagree with certain critics being Mann's best work, is nevertheless a very strong example of his Western prowess.

Anonymous said...

Calvin: Have you also seen Mitchum in The Friends of Eddie Coyle? He's great in that.

Anonymous said...

John Smith: Thanks Luke, but louis who do you think should have won the golden globe... Thornton or Freeman

Luke Higham said...

John Smith: I think he preferred Thornton.

Calvin Law said...

Michael, Louis: Any other biopics you'd like to see brought to life? For me:

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Directed by Joel Edgerton
Frederick Douglass: Anthony Mackie
Mr Auld: Val Kilmer
Mrs Auld: Elizabeth Debicki
Mr Covey: Joel Edgerton

John Brown biopic
Directed by Tarantino (he'd said he was interested before)
John Brown: David Strathairn/Gary Oldman
Robert E. Lee:
Dianthe Lusk: Kate Fleetwood
Frederick Douglass: Anthony Mackie
Harriet Tubman: Octavia Spencer
The Coppocks: Michael Pitt and Emory Cohen
Shields Green: Michael B. Jordan
Ralph Waldo Emerson: Kyle Chandler
Silas Soule: Jesse Plemons



Calvin Law said...

Anonymous: No but I really should, seeing as it has Richard Jordan who I need to see a LOT more of, in it too.

Calvin Law said...

Speaking of Jordan, I just recently watched a version of Les Mis starring him as Valjean and Anthony Perkins as Javert and I have to say, while the film as a whole is far from perfect, they're probably the best two live-action incarnations of the characters I've seen (not including the two actors I saw in the musical version).

Anonymous said...

Calvin: While you liked Coop in Man of the West, who would you have chosen instead of him for the part.

Calvin Law said...

Anonymous: Montgomery Clift or Robert Mitchum would've been good choices.

Anonymous said...

Calvin: What rating you gave to Mr. Franciosa in that movie you saw with Quinn and Kotto?

Calvin Law said...

Anonymous: Across 110th Street, my ratings would be,

Quinn: 4.5
Kotto: 4 (verging on a 4.5)
Franciosa: 3.5

RatedRStar said...

Calvin: I thought about putting Quinn in for 1972, wouldn't know who to take out though.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Bogart - 4(It's a pretty straight forward performance from him as he's just pretty purely evil but I thought this was pretty good example of that. He exudes the right nasty menace and I like how he makes there to be something pathetic about his cruelty particularly when we see his rather petty initial murder)

GM:

George - 4.5(I really liked her performance as she certainly captured the right roughness so to speak for her part, but what I like is that she did not allow this turn her into a negative caricature. Like Cagney she very honestly reveals the motivations of her character in her performance as she does not sugarcoat her character, but at the same time does not condemn her either. I really do love her chemistry with Cagney. She brings such a delicate warmth in their scenes together. I like the way that through the film she silently suggests Panama's love for Eddie, though this is never stated once during the film.)

Michael:

I like your performer choices. I particularly would be supportive of Calvin's choice of Weir as director since I feel he'd no only be able to capture the period he also would not try to enforce a side between the two.

Luke:

Not so fast Luke, upon reflection actually put Hunger as my favorite Fassbender performance.

John Smith:

I may opt for Thornton between the two, but really Freeman would have been just as deserving.

Calvin:

Roy Orbison directed by David Lynch.

Anonymous said...

Louis: What are your top 10 worst choices for the technical Oscars?

Calvin Law said...

With Oscar Isaac as Roy Orbison, perhaps?

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

1. Alice in Wonderland - Production Design
2. Avatar - Cinematography
3. Gigi - Production Design
4. Sayonara - Production Design
5. The Towering Inferno - Cinematography
6. Slumdog Millionaire - Cinematography
7. Gigi - Cinematography
8. The Towering Inferno - Editing
9. How the Grinch Stole Christmas - Makeup
10. Picnic - Editing

Calvin:

I'll admit casting Orbison is a difficult one particularly if they're to capture his vocals. I was perhaps thinking of Shea Whigham as at the very least he has the right look for the part, though the singing may be problematic. Though I'd say with Lynch lip syncing would probably work wonders.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: I watched Macbeth again and Fassbender's my #9 of the decade.

Louis: Within the next 4 years, I really hope Fassbender manages to give a performance that makes your top ten of the decade list. :)

Luke Higham said...

Louis: What would be some of your favourite technical wins of all-time.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Surprised My Fair Lady isn't on that list. The sets are so painfully fake looking.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

My Fair Lady's production design would be my #11. Though maybe it should be ten, but I was quite caught off guard when I found that Picnic won best editing while looking down the list.

Luke:

Give me a minute here.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Louis, can I convince you to swap Edgerton's and Hardy's places in the 2011 rankings for Warrior? Because I caught it on TV and I have to say I am still far more impressed with what Edgerton added to his role than what Hardy did.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

How about my two favorites per category:

Cinematography:

There Will be Blood
Days of Heaven

Song:

Mona Lisa
White Christmas

Costumes:

Amadeus
The Last Emperor

Editing:

JFK
Mad Max: Fury Road

Makeup:

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
An American Werewolf in London

Production Design:

The Last Emperor
Amadeus

Score:

The Last Emperor (It's so good that it also won for Babel)
Jaws

Best Visual Effects:

Jurassic Park
The Lord of the Rings(Doesn't really matter which one)

Sound Editing:

Aliens
Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Sound Mixing/Best Sound:

The Exorcist
Star Wars

Robert:

I'd have to watch it again, which I really wouldn't mind doing.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Funny, considering I don't really care about Warrior outside of Edgerton. Guess I'm a heartless bastard.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Is there an actor you feel gets unfairly criticized?

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts and ratings on these films, also what are your thoughts on the special effects in Moby Dick, like the whale itself?

Serpico
Syriana
Ghosts Of Mississippi
Sorcerer

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Nicolas Cage to a certain extent. Mel Gibson in terms of his professional output, that Razzie nomination was ridiculous.

Anonymous:

I found for the time they were actually fairly impressive.

Anonymous said...

Louis: What are your thoughts on Elizabeth Hartman as an actress?

mcofra7 said...

When will the updated rankings for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor be posted?

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Elizabeth Hartman - (Her screen presence was so immensely natural which alone made her stand out as a performer. She brought this certain remarkable modesty to her performances that was truly special giving that it still made her so captivating to watch, or hear given her great vocal work in The Secret of NIMH.)

mcofra7: I no longer do those. They I may try to compile just a ranking of the winners.