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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Public Enemy (1931)



Reviews and Comments

Little Caesar and this film must have been like a bucket of cold water to the audiences of 1931, who had by that time never seen a movie that portrayed the world of the mob so realistically (and brutally) before. It stars James Cagney in a career-launching role as Tom Powers, a punk kid that grows up under the wing of a crime leader and sets the course for his adult life. Cagney is stupendous: the glare in his eyes makes Powers frightfully real.

The story, directed by sometimes brilliant William A. Wellman, is effective but straightforward. It's not a film that dazzles so much as delivers by hitting a clear note just right.