By: Oberst von Berauscht (A Toast) –
Cody Jarrett is the leader of a nomadic gang of thieves who take big heists for bigger money. Cody’s latest job winds up with four men dead and one of his own gravely injured. While it is ultimately successful, these deaths bring him to the forefront of a U.S. Treasury investigation on organized crime. Always accompanied by his doting mother, Jarrett’s foothold on sanity seems to be unraveling. With the heat closing in, Jarrett starts losing and/or isolating everyone he trusts. The government sees this as their golden moment to infiltrate his gang, and concoct a scheme to catch Cody for good.
The 1930’s saw James Cagney becoming an A-List star for playing the sort of criminal toughs that girls loved and men wanted to be. His characters might have been killers, but they ultimately were nice enough guys when you got to know them… just before he shot you in the back.
Nobody fucks with the Cag
While he still did a fair share of comedies, he couldn’t seem to shake this image, so after the massive success of The Roaring Twenties,(1939) and sick of being typecast, Cagney swore off bad guys altogether. While the 1940’s weren’t as good to Cagney, he managed to make several very significant career statements, particularly the epic musical Yankee-Doodle-Dandy, still highly regarded as one of the greatest films of the era.
And then, in 1949, with his independent studio failing, Cagney signed a deal to fold it into Warner Brothers, with the promise of re-teaming with Roaring Twenties director Raoul Walsh in what would become the greatest gangster film of his career.
While the story itself bears very little resemblance to other classic-era genre flicks, the material is elevated to epic proportions through a simply masterful performance by James Cagney. While mostly cold and humorless, Cody Jarrett is prone to debilitating headaches, hallucinations, and violent mood-swings (not to mention an Oedipus Complex that surely challenged the self-censoring production code of the time). Taking a ten year break from this sort of character served him well, and his performance would go on to influence generations of villains, and anti-heroes after him.
If you’re at all a fan gangster flicks, this is essential. If you’re a fan of movies at all, honestly.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: when anyone talks about Cody’s mother
Take Two Drinks: when Cody mentions his own mother
Drink a Shot: when Cody loses his shit