Chalk up yet another victory for the Warner Archive, boys and girls. Not only have they given us a new stellar Blu-ray release of Yankee Doodle Dandy recently, but they've filled in several other missing James Cagney film gaps as well, including the riotous comedy Boy Meets Girl with Pat O'Brien. And here, with The St. Louis Kid, I was able to at last pin the tail on the donkey of something else. As a youth, one of the many videocassettes in my always-expanding library was a cheapo blooper tape from an illustrious label that at one point went by the distinguishable name of Viking Video Classics. (Because those old Norse seafarers were well known video aficionados.)
Among the many vintage snippets of breakdowns,blow ups, blunders, and (as they curiously used to be called) "boners," the tape was comprised of (culled from different outtake reels) were two with tough guy James Cagney and comic Allen Jenkins. The words "green fields" proved to be particularly irksome for Mr. Cagney to articulate, and, after watching the videotape perhaps ten times too many, I occasionally utter the phrase "green frields" to this day on long drives through the country. It wasn't until my viewing of The St. Louis Kid that I was finally able to figure out which movie that blooper came from, and not surprisingly enough, Cagney did not say "green fields" in the final cut (that, or I was too busy chuckling to myself to notice).
The movie itself, a lighthearted comedy from 1934, finds Cagney as a truck driver who is quick to pick a fight (imagine). As such, he's always landing in jail, to wit his dimwitted skirt-chasing sidekick Jenkins has to come to the financial rescue (after borrowing money from somebody else, that is). But when our cocky hero from St. Louis lands himself in some hot water in a small farming town after harassing local lass Patricia Ellis (herself no-longer-living proof that they don't make 'em like that anymore) and pioneering the fine art of headbutting with a residential person of power (Addison Richards), he inadvertently sets a delivery truck of another color into motion: one where angry milk farmers are pitted against delivery drivers with hired guns (and the men with itchy fingers holding them).
And yet, somehow, Cagney - in one of his least nice good guy roles - still manages to win over his female co-star, despite ruining her egg delivery (did the National Dairy Council secretly co-produce this film?) after she laces his ham and eggs with oodles of Tabasco sauce and black pepper (because those were actually considered to be exotic and hot spices back then, and were also said to be quite popular with those film loving vikings). Yes, Cagney's a jerk here through and through. Even his boss (played by Charles C. Wilson, who was usually cast as a police officer, and portrayed a precursor to Commissioner Gordon in Columbia's first Batman serial in 1943) can't stand him, especially after Cagney and Jenkins play a prank on him before learning who he really is, and sends him on the same now-dangerous route, where he (and his pal Jenkins) lands up in jail yet again.
Sensing that perhaps things weren't really going anywhere, the story shifts gears towards the third act, with the hired gunmen of the truck company offing a farmer (Robert Barret) and kidnapping Cagney's beloved, wherein the tale becomes a pre-noir drama. As you have probably figured out, The St. Louis Kid is a weird, uneven film. That said though, it's also a fun way to waste time while you admire the handsome styles of men and the beautiful faces of women from the early '30s. Spencer Charters (the actor with a travel agency for a name) is the film's true highlight as the lonely down-to-earth small town jailer with a deck of cards and a bottle of cold beer ready for his "guests" in this quirky, cautionary tale about the evils of milk that also features Hobart Cavanaugh and Dorothy Dare.
The Warner Archive brings us the home video debut of this Cagney vehicle (heh, 'cause he's a truck driver, you see) in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Neither the print or its accompanying mono English soundtrack present any distracting flaws on this Manufactured on Demand DVD-R release.
Break out the Tabasco, call up your viking friends, and enjoy a trip through these "green frields" with James Cagney and Allen Jenkins, folks. Now if the Warner Archive could only find the original Breakdowns of 19__ blooper reels made for the studio from the time and release them on DVD...