James Cagney

Cagney Bogart Roaring Twenties PS

Name: James Francis Cagney, Jr.

Birthdate: July 17, 1899

Number of Films James Cagney made with Humphrey Bogart: 3

The Lowdown

Although I’ve always enjoyed James Cagney, it wasn’t until I began to write for this blog that I discovered my true love for the man. Rivaled only by Bogart as far as onscreen charisma is concerned, James Cagney could steal every scene and command every frame that he was in with just a few menacing words, a well-timed comedic line, or just the right smile – a smile that could often combine joy and danger. The man was bursting with an endless stream of energy that seemed to be contagious to any cast that surrounded him.

Cutting his teeth in vaudeville as a dancer and comedian, Cagney would go on to work with Warner Brothers in what would turn out to be an incredibly fruitful, but often tumultuous relationship. With films like The Public Enemy and White Heat, Cagney left behind the defining example of what it meant to be an onscreen gangster – tough, unnerving, funny, and always on the edge of emotional explosion.

Cagney made three films with Humphrey Bogart, and I have to say that I really love all three – even the one that gets the most flak from the critics and modern day TCM viewers (The Oklahoma Kid). With great pleasure, I add James Cagney to ‘The Usual Suspects.’

The Filmography

Angels with Dirty Faces – 1938

Cagney OBrien AngelsCagney with Pat O’Brien

Cagney plays Rocky Sullivan, a small time hood that grows up to be a big time criminal. It’s a wonderfully charismatic performance from Cagney, and it’s the film that makes me think there might need to be a Cagney Film Blog when I’m done with Bogart. Cagney is able to pull off an incredible amount of likability from the viewers even while we watch him do some pretty terrible things to his friends and to the kids that he begins to mentor. A really good film is elevated to great just by the delivery of his final lines in the movie. Even though we see nothing but a quick glimpse of his hands, that last scene still has a deeply moving and painful tone that haunted me for days afterwards. Cagney said that he chose to play his final scene with enough ambiguity that the audience wouldn’t know his real motivation for what he says and does. The choice was genius. You can read my original write up on the film here.

The Oklahoma Kid – 1939


Cagney plays western outlaw Jim Kincaid, and although the real ‘bad guys’ in the film spend their time doing MUCH worse things than Cagney, the law seems to only want to pursue him. For all of the bad things that I’d heard about this film, I thought that Cagney played a great cowboy. Bogart reportedly referred to him as the mushroom because of his oversized hat, but just take a look at Bogart’s hat:


Was the wardrobe department out of mediums that day, or what? Other than the chapeau snafus, Cagney is endlessly watchable here and seemed to be enjoying himself as he flirts, cons, shoots, and rides his way through the film. I’d say it’s a must see Cagney film as he really seems to be having fun. You can read my original write up of the film here.

The Roaring Twenties – 1939

Bogart and Cagney

Cagney plays Eddie Bartlett, a WWII vet who returns home only to find that an honest job with a decent paycheck is all but impossible to get. So what’s a man to do other than to turn his talents towards an illegal bootlegging operation? Cagney gets to run the gamut from celebrated soldier boy, to big time gangster, and then all the way down to flat broke drunk. Cagney’s charisma is off the charts and every moment he’s on screen you just can’t take your eyes off of him. He looks great in a uniform, a tuxedo, and a bum’s clothes. He can switch from coy and charming one minute, to fierce and ruthless the next, and it always plays believably. His comedic timing is perfect and there’s wonderful chemistry with the entire cast. You can read my original write up of the film here.

*UPDATE* – You gotta check out this rare clip that Judy posted on her Movie Classics blog of Cagney in a screen test!  What a great moment!  Linkety-link.

‘The Usual Suspects’ is an ongoing feature on the blog that highlights some of Bogart’s best collaborators. You can find the ever-growing list of names here.

15 thoughts on “James Cagney

  1. I’d love to see you go on to do a Cagney blog – he is my number one favourite, and when I started up my own blog I did intend to write about all his films,,but didn’t manage to find enough writing time.

    Totally agree that two of those three are great films and The Oklahoma Kid is a lot of fun too – and Cagney’s rebel character is very appealing, with some powerful comments about land grabs etc, even if he does have to recant at the end. There’s a great photo of Cagney and Bogart together on set for that one where they are laughing with their arms slung round each others’ shoulders. If I remember rightly,.Cagney has a bit about Bogart in his autobiography where he says about how badly Warner treated him,in the early days, and that Bogie sometimes used to turn up on set and not even know what part he was playing, just saying: “I’ve been told to go to stage 11”!
    Don’t know if you saw that I came across a rare piece of Cagney footage the other day on Youtube and posted about it on my blog – it’ s a screen test for an actress who tried out for a part in Raoul Walsh’s ‘A Lion Is in the Streets’,so you might not want to see it if you haven’t seen that film yet!

    • Oh, Judy! Working two jobs while trying to watch films and post twice a week has gotten me VERY far behind on my blog reading, but I just watched the clip and it’s awesome! I put a link at the bottom of my Cagney post if that’s all right! I need to put his autobiography on my reading list, as I’m having a lot of fun gathering Bogart stories, not to mention the fact that I love Cagney!

      What do you say that when I’m wrapping up the Bogart films we do a Cagney blog together 😉

      • No worries – I also find it hard to keep up with reading other people’s blogs, and I’m not nearly as good as you are at updating my own! Thanks very much for linking to the post and glad you liked that clip – I’m grateful to the person who somehow found it and put it up on Youtube. Thanks for the suggestion about doing a Cagney blog together – it’s a tempting idea, not sure if I’ll have time as things are a bit frantic with me too at the moment, but maybe. If not I’ll be cheerleader in chief for it 🙂

        Cagney’s autobiography is interesting, but a bit strange – it’s ghost-written in a sort of imitation of his voice (‘gal’ etc), and rambles at times, plus unfortunately it includes quite a few poems of his which aren’t very good (there’s one about Bogart picking his nose, I hate to tell you!) I think he might have recorded tapes for the writer to transcribe, because I once saw a documentary where there was a bit of voiceover by Cagney and it was the same wording as the book. The ghost-writer (John McCabe) did a biography after Cagney died and included information that he had to leave out of the autobiography, like about his dad being in a mental home.

      • All right, I’m sold on the autobiography. I’m going to have to see if the library has it.

        When the Bogart movies wind down, I’ll buzz you again about the Cagney blog! Who knows! (Although, I will be looking for a slightly more lax schedule next time around . . . )

  2. Your blog is an awesome example. I really admire what you’re doing and your passion for it. BTW agree with you about Cagney. I watched Angels with Dirty Faces expecting to be immune to his legend. Was blown away. What an actor. Would love to have seen what he could do in live theatre. Unlike some movie stars I think he could have hacked it

    • Thanks, Never! It would have been great to see a lot of those guys and gals do live theater, as it seems like almost every classic actor tried their hand at it before film. I can only imagine Cagney’s energy on stage, as everything had to be toned down for film. He must have been an explosion to behold! Thanks for stopping by!

      • I’d love to have seen him on stage too – I think it’s possible to get a taste of what these stars were like in live theatre by listening to their radio performances, as those were live and in front of an audience, but I suppose they might have still been toning it down a bit for radio!

  3. I can’t never get enough of Cagney, superb in everything he made. Perhaps these days my favorite Cagney movie is Yankee Doodle Dandy, he owns the movie with comedy, drama and as a quite impressive dancer, so much energy, amazing! And he was the first irish punk too.

    • Lol! That’s true!

      I just watched ‘The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse’ the other night, and thought that I need to check out your Robinson blog again soon! I want to put a plug into my post (which will probably go up a week from Sunday) for your site! Hope all is well across the ocean!

      • Thanks! And of course that I’ll post sometime about Dr. Clitorishouse, as Bogart said. A movie that is growing in me, it was my first Bogart & Robinson film I saw after Key Largo and I expected much more, not an epic movie but very good as a comedy.

  4. Pingback: The Roaring Twenties (1939) | timneath

  5. It’s a real shame that today’s youth take no interest in some of the greatest actor,actress’s and films ever made from the 30’s to the 70’s,even the early 80’s were pretty good.With all of today’s reality crap that they watch,it really shows their lack of interest for the art of acting.And I really have to say,Sidney Poitier was and is the greatest black actor of all time,he should’ve been in a hundred films or more,but because of the racist period of his time,he was only in a handful,he deserved to win Oscars years before they actually awarded him with one.None of today’s hot actors,actress’s and movies will stand the test of time like the one from yesteryear,and I’ll say the same thing for today’s music.Q;who will be listening to shawn mendez,and cardi b 40,30,even 20 years from now?A;nobody will even know who they are.

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