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EARLY CAGNEY DOUBLE: HARD TO HANDLE & HE WAS HER MAN

Reviews of Hard to Handle & He Was Her Man 1933 and 1934
HARD TO HANDLE: Character-actress Ruth Donnelly is a genius. Was a genius. But art is eternal, and James Cagney is timeless, breezy, natural, edgy, hilarious, especially in the early programmers after his accidental game-changing role, upped from the sidekick to the leading, title character in THE PUBLIC ENEMY: A thoroughly entertaining yet dire and grim classic...

And while regarded as one of his better features during the 1930's, ENEMY doesn't flow along Cagney's style since he hadn't established it like underrated lightweight crime-comedies such as: HARD TO HANDLE, with Cagney doing what would happen again in HERE COMES THE NAVY, hosting a dance contest, only this time his partner runs off with the money as the winning couple awaits their prize cash — plus he's dogged by crowds like villagers in a Frankenstein movie. The rest of the picture has Cagney's Lefty Merrill coming up with get-rich-quick schemes that, although entirely impossible and unrealistic, are involving and it's the aforementioned brilliant Ruth Donnelly as his patient girlfriend's impatient mother that carries the film. Moving around the scenery as if made of elastic, she steals the movie, outright.

Ruth Donnelly in HARD TO HANDLE ****
HE WAS HER MAN: Very different in texture and tone is what feels like a James Cagney simple-crime dime-novel vehicle involving his character Flicker Hayes, newly released from a prison sentence, dangerously double-crossing the hoods who had double-crossed him and causing...

A bad thing to happen as more hoods keep on his trail, which begins in San Fransisco where he meets the best fit in the arsenal of Cagney leading ladies, Joan Blondell, as a prostitute setting her mind on marrying a simple fisherman in a John Steinbeck Monterrey style small seaside town. She has a seemingly benign passenger in Flicker Hayes, hiding out from the bad guys — while James Cagney is also surprisingly quiet and subdued throughout...

Cagney as Flicker Hayes in HE WAS HER MAN
Long-faced Victor Jory plays the nicest guy in the world — the guy who doesn't care about Blondell's past. This is merely a distraction to Cagney's story that, in itself, distracts from what the movie, HE WAS HER MAN, is leading to — with armed goons on the way, it doesn't look likely he'll survive...

Score: ****
Veteran (even at that time) character-actor Frank Craven fits nicely into the mellow pre-Noir — in one of Cagney's more artistic ventures at the end of the 30''s, CITY FOR CONQUEST, Craven played a happy-go-lucky bum who provides the roman chorus narration throughout the melodrama — here he's a con man "rat" with a trick up his sleeve, at Cagney's expense.

As of lately, HARD TO HANDLE isn't hard to find, streaming (for sale) on Amazon, and it's difficult to tell if the beautiful landscape aids the story along with the grainy quality of the imported DVD (you can find it online, somewhere)...

The fishing village connected to the passage seaward is like a dream milieu to the first early Cagney programmer that's more of a fable than his usual crook and/or con artist caper. What it lacks in edgy excitement or the usual hyperactive, spontaneous humor (Cagney had a way of insulting people with expressions alone) is made up for within the creative-storyline in this page-turning melodrama with a more poetic than satisfying, Noir-esque conclusion.
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