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JAMES CAGNEY & DWIGHT FRYE OPEN 'THE DOORWAY TO HELL'

Year of Release: 1931
Well if you don't watch your step, you're gonna find a way to treat yourself to a handful of clouds.
That's a line from James Cagney as a second-in-command mobster (named Mileaway) in his second and last film where he's not the star...

In fact it's his second movie altogether. The first, SINNER'S HOLIDAY, providing a few scenes that hinted his talents while THE DOORWAY TO HELL impressed Hollywood enough so that in his next gig, he'd be given the second-fiddle for a better sounding tune: as the legacy goes, when director William Wellman decided the short and stout, spitfire firebrand should fill the bigger shoes and play the lead, 1931's Warner Bros gangster b-flick THE PUBLIC ENEMY became it's own timeless orchestration...

Cagney lights up screen
Alas, if only the roles were switched here too. Instead, in this DOORWAY, Lew Ayres, a natural for sweet, classy, gentlemanly types, is a tough yet cerebral "don" who forces the separate mob gangs to join together — under his thumb. He speaks the dialogue breezily without actually relishing in it, which is a must for this particular genre...

Dwight Frye SCORE: **1/2
So there's Cagney in the shadows, with his spontaneous intensity and... actually... his is a better role, the "Lieutenant" having an affair behind the boss's back with a gun moll that tires of Lew once he decides to go straight — so he can write a book about his history in crime, which never quite materializes even during the film's rudimentary stages. You'll wonder what he's retiring from...

Cagney, making a better gangster than leader and, although limited in his as-yet unrefined power on screen, is spontaneous and fun to watch — either chewing people out or just as intensity listening to their vain retractions, this is a springboard for him, and us...

Dwight Frye sizzles in Tod Browning's FRANKENSTEIN
Then there's the bonus in a cult figure who made Universal's DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN shine brighter than they would have without his eerie presence: Dwight Frye plays the number one machine gun goon (it's a shock Johnny Depp and Tim Burton haven't make a film of his career): Unlike the roles as a psychotic servant in the monster movies, he's solid and edgy here — and behind every hit. If only there were more action sequences between overlong conversations between a brooding Ayres and a fatherly-yet-stern cop, both putting this crime melodrama to sleep after the third act'd stretched beyond its already limited limitations. But, no matter, THE DOORWAY TO HELL is an important motion picture, and now you know why — twofold!
Cagney and Frye in Doorway to Hell and Something to Sing About
Looking a little Brando here (though Dwight was first) with a sprinkle of Sal Mineo...
Dwight Frye as the chief gun goon in THE DOORWAY TO HELL
Dwight Frye as the chief gun goon in THE DOORWAY TO HELL (and there's some Johnny Depp there)
Lew Ayres leads a louder, better James Cagney
Dwight Frye as the chief gun goon in THE DOORWAY TO HELL
Dwight Frye as the chief gun goon (albeit here very social) in THE DOORWAY TO HELL
Gun Moll Dorothy Mathews may have her eyes on Lew but...
Her mind's on Cagney, and vice versa...
Dwight Frye plays the tough goon in DOORWAY TO HELL (a dab of Geoffrey Lewis here)
Cagney in a performance that's never phoned-in
Lew Ayres is a good actor but this role just isn't his type
Lew Ayres thanks James Cagney in DOORWAY TO HELL
Dwight Frye with a penchant for blood and violins 
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