With James Cagney, Mae Clarke, Margaret Lindsay, Douglas Dumbrille, Leslie Fenton
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Black and White
Reviewed by JB

You ain't nobody til you're a Starland cover boy     LADY KILLER is a film that starts out with Jimmy Cagney as a wiseguy movie usher who then becomes a gangster who then becomes a movie star who then becomes a hero.  It's a light comedy that becomes a gangster picture before turning into a light comedy again before turning into by a Hollywood satire, an action picture and a love story.  Can you say "Warner Brothers"?.  I knew that you could.

     The film is no PUBLIC ENEMY or ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, but it is a fascinating bit of pre-Hayes Code fun, with plenty of double-entendres sprinkled throughout the dialogue.  (Commenting on an actress, one of Cagney's gangster pals says "You rub noses with all the big shots in the picture business!" to which Cagney replies "Well, call it noses if you want to.").  There's also some surprising violence, much of it directed at Mae Clarke, who only had to suffer a single grapefruit to the face in PUBLIC ENEMY.  Here, she is grabbed by the hair, dragged across the floor, and thrown out into the hallway.  A later incident  with actor Cagney forcing a critic to eat a bad review and then pushing him into a bathroom stall so hard that the toilet actually flushes, makes me wonder if LADY KILLERS was one of those formative films seen by the young and often sickly Martin Scorsese. Flash forward a few decades and you've got Joe Pesci breaking bottles over waiters heads or jabbing pens in people's necks for similar slights against his character.

     There are Three Stooges shorts with dead-Shemp stand-ins that have better story construction than LADY KILLER, which turns on a dime when down and out gangster Cagney is approached by a Hollywood casting scout out of the blue and is instantly turned into a movie actor. At the height of his Hollywood success, his gangster pals pay a visit and try to blackmail him into fronting a burglary operation - he either gets them invited to the homes of stars so that they can case the joints or they will squeal about his past.  When they fail to convince Cagney, they simply go down the street and get into a "See the Homes of the Stars" cab!   When, moments later, the blaring headline "Gay Film Party Robbed!" flashes on the screen, you've either given into the film's dated, unwieldy cage full of monkeys sensibilities or you've given up trying.  And yes, this film actually features an unwieldy cage full of monkeys.

     The sum of the parts may or may not be better than the whole, but the film benefits from a good cast, including Douglas Dumbrille as one of Cagney's mob friends (most film fans will remember him best as a great foil to the Marx Brothers in A DAY AT THE RACES and THE BIG STORE), as well as a very sexy Mae Clarke and a demure and well-cleavaged Margaret Lindsay as the women in his life.  Cagney himself, dancer that he is, glides through it all effortlessly, never letting the illogical twists and turns in the story get in the way of his having a good time in front of the camera.  Definitely a "quickie", as Cagney himself would put it, done to keep stars like he and Mae Clarke in the public eye, but a fun one.  3 - JB

James Cagney     The Stuff You Gotta Watch Home Page
Stuff You Gotta Watch
Copyright © 2010 John V. Brennan, John Larrabee