Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cagney Day

It's August, which means it's time again for TCM's Summer Under the Stars. To celebrate, Jill at Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and Michael at ScribeHard on Film are hosting a blogathon. This is my contribution for James Cagney Day (Tuesday, August 14).

As I mentioned up there in italics, it's James Cagney Day on TCM. But this isn't the Cagney Day I want to discuss. Instead, I want to talk about the original Cagney Day (at least in my heart) - Saturday, July 26, 2003, two months after I graduated from high school.

During high school, Cagney had become one of my favorite actors. I'd never seen a performer who could mix intensity and exuberance, joy and wrath like he could. I watched films like The Public Enemy, Angels with Dirty Faces, and Yankee Doodle Dandy repeatedly, and I discovered new facets of his charisma with every viewing.

Over the course of that summer, I videotaped six Cagney movies from TCM - all of them new to me - and I decided that I would watch them all in a single day. I dubbed the occasion Cagney Day, and I couldn't wait to sit around alone in my room like a dork. The six movies in question spanned thirty years (and, incidentally, three of them aired on TCM today):

Smart Money (1931), which isn't really a Cagney movie at all. It's Edward G. Robinson's show all the way, with Cagney cast as a lowly henchmen, but it was still a fine start to the day.

Footlight Parade (1933), one of Cagney's many delightful pairings with Joan Blondell, the closest thing to a female James Cagney that has ever existed.

The Roaring Twenties (1939), a movie that's kind of like Angels with Dirty Faces, but isn't as quite as good. Still a lot of fun though. I later rewatched it during my Prohibition-themed 21st-birthday party.

White Heat (1949), one of the most satisfying movie-watching experiences a person can have.

Love Me or Leave Me (1955), a Ruth Etting biopic where Cagney plays Marty "The Gimp" Snyder, a small-time gangster who's essentially the natural end point of the cocky, charming criminals he played in The Roaring Twenties and so many other 1930s movies. If those guys hadn't died, they'd have grown up to be just as sleazy, horrible, and pathetic as Snyder.

One, Two, Three (1961), Billy Wilder's fast-as-lightning comedy about Communism and Coca-Cola. Cagney didn't make a movie for twenty years after this one, and brother, what a way to say good night!

Like I mentioned, I hadn't seen any of those movies before Cagney Day, and there isn't a stinker in the bunch. Additionally, they offer a nice variety of genres. Four of them are mob movies, sure, but one of those is secretly a musical biopic, and the other two are hilarious comedies. Executed properly, Cagney Day would have been an amazing education in the career of one of our finest actors.

But Cagney Day was not executed properly. Not properly at all!

For the first four-and-a-half movies, everything went exactly as planned. I thrilled to Chester Kent's effortless dancing. I cried at Eddie Bartlett's untimely end. I swooned over Cody Jarrett's love for his mother. But then, halfway through Love Me or Leave Me, tragedy struck -

My mom decided it was time for me to go buy a car.

To be fair to her, we had looked at the car (a $1200 Ford Taurus in an off-putting forest green) a few day earlier, but still, can you believe the nerve of her? A CAR! On Cagney Day! What kind of 18-year-old boy wants to go buy a car when he could watch James Cagney emotionally manipulate Doris Day instead?!

Not this one, that's for sure!

Well, I watched the rest of Love Me or Leave Me and all of One, Two, Three the next day, but it just wasn't the same.

Thanks a whole lot, MOM!

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