Gangster. Dancer. Mister Roberts’ personal pain in the ass. James Cagney inhabited all kinds of roles as a performer, and the better-known works of his onscreen legacy have been well-preserved time and time again over the years. And then there are those other, lesser entries in Cagney’s filmography that have all-but slipped underneath the radar as time marched on - three of which have recently hit DVD via the Warner Archive Collection. In fact, this instance in home video history notably marks the first time two of said titles have seen their way into homes other than as a late-night television airing.
We begin with the pre-Code 1932 ditty Winner Take All, which casts Cagney as Jimmy Kane: a none-too-bright prizefighter from the Big Apple who - at the height of his career - is sent by his manager (Guy Kibbee) to New Mexico so that he can get a chance to cool down before the excessive boozin’ and the broads that come with it do him in. Naturally, the first thing he does is meet a dame. But Peggy (Marian Nixon) is quite a catch for even a big dumb boxer, even with her young fatherless son (Dickie Moore) in constant tow.
Well, it isn’t long before Jimmy is back to duking it out in the ring - first to finance Peggy’s stay at the desert hot springs, but later to win the heart of a soulless socialite (Virginia Bruce) back in NYC, whom he’s even foolish enough to get plastic surgery to fix his busted nose and cauliflower ear for (which of course she doesn’t like, as it makes him “normal” then). The great Alan Mowbray has a small part as Cagney’s hired elocution professor, Clarence Muse is Cagney’s trainer, Gabby Hayes can be seen as an intern at the hot springs, and some included footage of George Raft as a bandleader was lifted from the 1929 early talkie Queen of the Night Clubs.
Next up is Here Comes the Navy, a 1934 romantic comedy wherein our leading man enlists for the same reason men have done time and time again over the centuries: because of a dame. In this instance, his gal was seduced by a superb specimen of seamen (you can stop snickering now). And the fellow responsible for such an action just happens to be the one and only Pat O’Brien, kids - the same man who shared an explosive screen once with not only James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, but the East Side Kids, as well. Frankly, you’d have to join the Navy to compete with that!
As you’d expect from a romantic comedy, it isn’t long before Cagney realizes that this armed service mumbo jumbo isn’t all it’s cracked up to be - but that doesn’t stop him from making eyes at a young Gloria Stuart - who, amazingly enough, looks nothing like Kate Winslet, despite what that joker James Cameron tried to convince us of in that one Titanic movie. A peacetime film with its own elements of drama and action as well, Here Comes the Navy happens to feature the doome dirigible Macon and was partly filmed on the battleship Arizona, which was tragically sunk at Pearl Harbor - which makes this title connected to three watership tragedies. Yikes!
Remember that other fellow I mentioned alongside Pat O’Brien and Cagney earlier? No, not the East Side Kids, boys and girls: I mean Bogart. Well, he’s here in the final movie in this trilogy, 1939’s The Oklahoma Kid, where he is cast as a - surprise! - bad guy. But then, so is Cagney for that matter - who is also our hero! Boasting the titular nickname, Cagney starts out by robbing Bogie and pals after they hold up a stagecoach full of freshly-minted government money. Deprived of their dough, they instead decide to con a group of settlers determined to boot up a place called Tulsa, where they eke out more than a living with saloons, gambling, and various other vices.
Paths cross again soon enough once Bogie’s nefarious plans (he isclad in black throughout and bears the handle Whip McCord, after all) result in spilled blood that is much thicker than water to the Oklahoma Kid - and when Cagney goes on the warpath in the Old West, brother, you had better watch your back (check out that scene where he stalks character actor Edward Pawley into the desert!). Rosemary Lane, Donald Crisp, Harvey Stephens, Ward Bond, and Charles “Ming the Merciless” Middleton (as a lawyer) are also featured. Worth it not only to see Cagney sing “Rockabye Baby” in Spanish, but to see Bogart as a cowboy villain too.
Each of these individually released titles from the Warner Archive have been newly remastered for the best available viewing experience. That said, The Oklahoma Kid is easily the roughest-looking hombre out of the whole lineup, but it’s understandable given the fact that it wasn’t quite Public Enemy or White Heat (but it’s still darn good just the same, folks!). Each movie includes its original theatrical trailer as a bonus (a plus, as these MOD releases usually don’t sport any special features), and are available for your viewing pleasure (and they are just that) from WBShop.com.