Written by / 5/29/2016 / No comments / , , , ,

WARTIME JAMES CAGNEY DOUBLE-FEATURE & BEYOND

Memorial Day Post for fans of James Cagney
BLOOD ON THE SUN: Put away childish things. That's probably what James Cagney felt. World War II was still on when filming the first of two Wartime films that had our stocky, cocky hero fighting not the mob or cops or charming ladies and beating up loudmouths – but battling German Nazis in France and first, taking on pre-War propaganda in Japan...

Which makes BLOOD ON THE SUN not so genuinely a "War Picture" but more of a War-Prequel and yet, compared to his previous wheelhouse, it definitely lands in the Wartime category and yet, Cagney did several other patriotic films, whether in fun like HERE COMES THE NAVY or semi-serious like CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS: But what gives BLOOD memorable and legitimate cult status is it's (supposedly, according to several tag-lines) the first time Americans saw Kung Fu (or in this case, Judo) on the big screen: And it's no shock that the tough guy Actor struts across the room in that same no-nonsense fashion, thus the Dancer Cagney combined his two mediums for several fast-paced fight scenes, breaking out whenever the American Journalist (they're known for being blackbelts, after all), having written a scandalous piece against Tanaka, is attacked by locals who do more than review articles.

James Cagney is Kung Fu Fighting... before most did on screen
It's not shallow to admit... in a story filled with historic dialogue that, though dumbed-down, is still, given all the red herrings, difficult to follow... these brawls are the best thing going for an otherwise semi-involving, pulpy yarn, although each scene opens with beautiful Asian exteriors and really puts you in that place. And hey, what's a guy without a doll?

Cut to a few years later, when British actress Sylvia Syms would take to the sea in FERRY TO HONG KONG with Orson Welles... Be sure the already legendary actor/director asked her about working with his favorite all-time performer, James Cagney, who he described as never being hammy no matter how energetic, but "focused, like a laser-beam." And although a serious subject, Cagney keeps his knowing charm intact, most of the time, and for him this is a far from perfect venture, entertaining just enough unlike the far superior journey in Europe...

The Cagney stance... before he kicks some Nippon ass
13 RUE MADELEINE: Where, like his 1935 classic G-MEN was to the FBI, our second Cagney mission provides a kind of historic lesson with fictional characters about the Army's Central Intelligence... And in G-MEN he's an awkward young lawyer going up against the mob after, during initial training – pummeled by Lloyd Nolan while goaded by Robert Armstrong of KING KONG fame while here he's the man in-charge, training agents himself against a dictator who considered the giant ape epic his second, not first, favorite movie... LIVES OF THE BENGAL LANCER won the prize. Cagney's job is to, while keeping abreast of important information, draw-out (mainly) three young recruits through a mostly mental boot camp, seeing if they'd make the cut to sustain, and for a while we don't see much of Cagney at all...

James Cagney & Richard Conte are an opposite pair in 13
Instead, future GODFATHER heavy and ultra-serious Noir actor Richard Conte; French widow Annabelle; and nice as apple pie Frank Latimore take center stage, the two guys sharing a mutual bond that feels genuine and makes RUE work when it needs to. The peripheral  suspense involves the behind-the-scenes Cagney, trying to piece together what his co-lead has already figured out, which won't be hard for the audience: Who exactly is the Nazi spy, and what's he up to exactly?

The guilty party is, for a little while, kept unaware to us and the fictional characters until, like many a crime flick, he's surreptitiously followed to a bigger catch instead of getting busted outright. Therein the best scene occurs right in the middle: where a non-famous Karl Malden shouts the male duo outside a parachute plane after which the trio's broken apart, and with no one left to shadow, our man, the man, James Cagney as Robert Emmett 'Bob' Sharkey, travels to France to join the Resistance; that is, once he finds who's in charge in order to capture the unseen but highly mentioned and anticipated antagonist.

Poster Artwork
This third part, involving rural espionage, is a bit too long a process compared to the tightly-paced training section, which was really catapulted by the young leads, two of whom are now sporadic cameos, never becoming fully fleshed-out. During the first half, Cagney didn't have to say or do much. Instead he pretty much knew everything, those eyes darting to and fro with a sage wisdom compared to the hyper "kid" in those delicious programmers throughout the 1930's.

And so, taking a few steps ahead of this better than average post-war thriller, 13 RUE MADELEINE, we can thank God, or the stars, or both that Cagney did one more Gangster flick in 1949 before gliding through conventional A-List pictures during the last twelve years of his career. After the war had altered countless human lives, it also reshaped the cinematic cadence that Cagney had been building since being shifted from the second banana to the leading role in his game-changer, PUBLIC ENEMY. So if it weren't for WHITE HEAT, enveloping his entire career perfectly after a decade-long crime hiatus following ROARING TWENTIES, there'd be no closure... HEAT was the perfect bookend for ENEMIES, like it was all meant to be.

More Patriot Cagney
As mentioned earlier, in-between he did several Patriotic films for the boys, overseas, but if, perhaps, Cagney starred in a few more Gangster flicks, do you think the uniformed audience would mind? Most likely... not very much!

But the real shame is he wound up so iconic, endearing and ultimate A-list, he refused to completely return to form, that is if you don't count a one-dimensional Mobster role in a Doris Day movie... most don't and you shouldn't either...

We can only imagine if he yearned for nostalgia and hooked onto a crime melodrama b-picture that the French renamed after Cagney had quit acting following Billy Wilder's reportedly anal direction (he liked to go for it while Billy preferred many takes) on the hyperactive Cold War romp ONE, TWO, THREE. God, the thought of a James Cagney Film Noir is... too much to yearn for. Although, the gangster flicks and the fun crime ventures before the merciless Cody Jarrett went out "On Top of the World,  Ma" were, despite their occupation, good guys deep down. So that'll have to be his Noir... Cagney Noir. CagNoir. Works just fine if you let it along with this double dose of CagWar on the 2016 Memorial Day Weekend!

BLOOD ON THE SUN: ***
13 RUE MADELEINE: ***1/2
CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS REVIEW
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