CITY FOR CONQUEST

(1940)
With James Cagney, Ann Sheridan, Frank Craven, Donald Crisp, Arthur Kennedy, Frank McKugh, Anthony Quinn, Elia Kazan
Produced and Directed by Anatole Litvak
Black and White
Reviewed by JB

     A New York tearjerker soap opera as only Warner Brothers could do it, CITY FOR CONQUEST has something for everybody: boxing, dancing, nightclubs, Coney Island, multiple shots of Ann Sheridan's legs (or her stand-ins), big bands, a Gershwin style  "symphony" and a young Anthony Quinn as part hoofer, part tough mug.  If this film featured Humphrey Bogart as a second-rate weaselly lawyer for the mob and Barton McClane as a local crime boss, it would be the quintessential Warner Brothers movie.

     The film received pretty good reviews in its day, but today, it comes off as a tall can of corn.  Nevertheless, as always, everybody at Warners worked furiously to make it worthwhile. These efforts include great performances by all involved, including an excellent piece of character acting by Elia Kazan, who proved he could have easily become one of the great Warner Brothers Players had he not opted to become one of the great directors instead.  Of course, there is Cagney.  68 years before I wrote nearly the exact same words about "Jimmy the Gent" (see review of G-MEN), critic William Boehnel of the New York World Telegram, wrote: "It has Jimmy Cagney in it, and any picture in which Cagney appears is bound to have merit...".

     Yet, in the end, it is the story of a truck driver (Cagney) who turns to boxing to fund his younger brother (Kennedy) through music school, only to be physically marred beyond repair in a title fight.  Meanwhile, his dancing girlfriend (Sheridan) lets her career get in the way of their love, breaking his heart.  It's soap opera stuff, with plenty of moments for "Oomph Girl" Ann Sheridan to break into tears on cue.  She's excellent - it may be one of her best parts - and Cagney is also remarkable, especially in his post-title fight scenes. There's enough great music and character acting (the erudite Donald Crisp as a boxing promoter!) to make CITY FOR CONQUEST worth seeing, but you have to have a great tolerance for 1940s melodrama. Then again, nobody did 1940s melodrama better than Warners. 3½ - JB

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