A Movie A Day: Quint on CITY FOR CONQUEST (1940)
I know this town, brother, because I got clothes on my back!
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we talk about 1940’s CITY FOR CONQUEST starring James Cagney, Ann Sheridan and Arthur Kennedy, with a few great character roles going to Frank Craven, Anthony Quinn and Elia Kazan. Yeah, that Elia Kazan.
While this flick is in the Warner Bros Gangsters Box Set, there is only one scene of gangsters doing gangstery things, which was a surprise to me. I was pretty shocked to find Cagney playing a big-hearted boxer so in love with his “goil”, an aspiring dancer played by Ann Sheridan, that he’d do anything for her.
And Sheridan isn’t playing any kind of femme fatale in this movie. Her eyes are dazzled by the thoughts of her name in lights that she makes some poor choices, but she genuinely loves Cagney’s Danny Kenny. She doesn’t go out of her way to hurt him, she just ends up choosing her career over their love.
But that’s getting ahead of myself.
What I loved about this film was how busy it was. There’s business in every scene… people yelling in the background, kids playing on the street, characters interacting with two or three things at once… everything felt alive and natural.
Then there’s Frank Craven as a character credited as “Old Timer.” I don’t know exactly what the hell he’s doing in this movie… I mean, I know why he’s there, but it’s so crazy to have a Greek Chorus in a movie like this. He’s a Greek Chorus mixed with Jiminy Cricket.
Old Timer is a bum that provides today’s quote in the subhead and he comes across young versions of all the main leads at the beginning of the movie, then disappears for an act only to pop up in the background for a few scenes and then the big final appearance.
Such a bizarre way to tell the story.
Cagney is pretty much a dude happy with his station in life. He’s supportive of his musically inclined brother (Arthur Kennedy), but he’s in love and love is grand. He’s got his “goil” so it doesn’t matter that he’s a truck driver.
He’s a master in the ring, having won the Golden Gloves years before, but he’s seen what the ring does to those who spend any amount of time in it.
However a couple of things happen at once. First, Cagney’s brother looks like he has to drop out of his music college and then Anthony Quinn comes spinning into the picture as a well known dancer in need of a partner who sweeps up Sheridan.
Cagney decides to get back into the ring with promises of big money. One after another he knocks ‘em down, happy to do it. Sheridan begins living her dream, traveling as the second part of a dance team, but at what cost? Quinn plays his character of Murray Burns with an asshole charm if that makes any sense. He’s charming and exudes sex, but boy what a dickhead he is… There’s even an implied rape scene involving him and Sheridan.
But Cagney has it in his head that if wins the welterweight title that he’ll prove to Sheridan that he has big aspirations, too, and they can finally get married.
Cagney is great in the flick, playing totally against the image that he’s most known for. Even when the world has thoroughly chewed him up and spits him out, he still has a Danny still has a smile and a content heart.
Sheridan has to play a role where she’s both naïve and sympathetic and pulls it off marvelously. I get a very Judy Garland feel from her work.
And then there’s Elia Kazan as Googi Zucco. He’s the gangster element to the story, a childhood friend of Danny and Peg’s who has made it big in the gangster world. Kazan is awesome in the movie, so full of life and energy. He’s so damn likable that I didn’t even make the gangster connection until Cagney is intentionally hurt and Kazan takes a rather interesting ride with the guy who done it.
Everybody knows Kazan’s work as a director, but I wasn’t aware he did a few character actor roles. I’m frankly surprised he didn’t act more. He’s great in this movie. I hope we can keep the discussion about him civil, though. Let’s try to keep politics out of it if we can.
One last thing I have to mention before going is the score composed by legend Max Steiner (KING KONG, KEY LARGO, THE SEARCHERS to name a few). I mentioned earlier that this film felt alive… it’s not just because of the business always happening in every scene, but also because of Steiner’s awesome score. It’s pounding, exciting and big. Great score.
Coming in the next seven days:
Thursday, June 19th: SAN QUENTIN (1937)
Friday, June 20th: 42nd STREET (1933)
Saturday, June 21st: DAMES (1934)
Sunday, June 22nd: GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 (1935)
Monday, June 23rd: MURDER, MY SWEET (1944)
Tuesday, June 24th: BORN TO KILL (1947)
Wednesday, June 25th: THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)
I know, I know. I don’t have a good explanation for why I haven’t seen THE SOUND OF MUSIC… Of course, I’ve seen a few of the musical numbers and many pieces of the movie, but I haven’t seen the whole thing. I grew up on MARY POPPINS and have a considerable… affection… for that era Julie Andrews. This film and one of Hitchcock’s films later down the line are the two I’m most embarrassed to admit to not having seen… but there’s gotta be a first time for everybody, right?
Tomorrow we follow the lovely Ann Sheridan back three years to another gangster movie, SAN QUENTIN, featuring an early appearance by Humphrey Bogart and starring Pat O’Brien. See you folks then.
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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June 18, 2008, 8:09 p.m. CST
Screw politics. I just watched A Face in the Crowd. The man's a genius.
June 18, 2008, 8:10 p.m. CST
I had to look him up as you kept referring to him like I should know him and his name was not ringing a bell. Only one of his movies I've seen - On the Waterfront. I should watch East of Eden one of these days and maybe Streetcar. Is there more beyond these three films that I should know him by? <br><Br> As for this film, can't say its catching my attention, but Cagney is always fun to watch. <br><Br> I am curious to see what major Hitchcock you've missed. I'm afraid you're on your own for Sound of Music.
June 18, 2008, 8:13 p.m. CST
Try watching "Singin' in the Rain". That's the musical that got me to appreciate the genre. Beyond some decent music, there's some cool stunts(the make 'em laugh song), plus I love movies about movies and its a great comedy story about switching from silent film to 'talkies'
June 18, 2008, 8:28 p.m. CST
when I was a little kid. That and Wizard of Oz were on tv all the time. But I guess I had forgotten most of it because last Christmas I watched Sound of Music and, with the exception of the scenes that are always shown when the film is referenced, it was all new to me.<p>SoylentMean, think of it this way - the song is exposition, but instead of being delivered by boring talking heads, or a narrator, or thought balloons, you get it in the form of a catchy tune and fancy footwork.
June 18, 2008, 8:35 p.m. CST
That's a hard question. I happen to love musicals, but I think that has a lot to do with being brought up on Disney stuff, including live action flicks like Pete's Dragon, which were musicals, too. There are sappy musicals, but there are some where the songs don't jar you out of the experience. I'd say give Oliver a chance. I love that one... Singin' In the Rain is a great suggestion. Find the super fun musicals and when you adapt yourself a bit to the rules of the musical universe you might want to dip into some of the Fred Astaire flicks like Top Hat. But Singin' In the Rain is definitely a gateway musical. Good call, MediaNerd
June 18, 2008, 8:41 p.m. CST
Something about the fleeting few scenes and musical excerpts I've heard from it have kept me far away; Mary Poppins ftw. Also, what's the Hitchcock you haven't see, Quint? Do tell.
June 18, 2008, 8:49 p.m. CST
June 18, 2008, 9:05 p.m. CST
I have seen Psycho (many times, I love it), Vertigo, Strangers On A Train, North By Northwest... I will confirm those are not on my list... but there's a huge, huge, huge one of his I haven't seen... And I'll wait to say more until it's coming up.<BR><BR>And yes, as O_Goncho type-sings... Bednobs and Broomsticks is indeed a musical. Looking at these musicals as a live-action cartoon isn't a bad way to go in.<BR><BR>In terms of the upcoming Busby Berkeley musicals, there's a hypnotic quality to how Berkeley staged his stuff that sets him apart from other musicals... If you've never seen one, the opening to Temple of Doom was a nod to Berkeley.<BR><BR>But if you don't like Singin' In the Rain, you might just have the musical switch set on off in your DNA. No worries. I hope you dig it because there's a large world of really great film waiting for you if you can get into musicals. Gene Kelly alone... damn...
June 18, 2008, 9:19 p.m. CST
Is it The Birds or Rebecca? because if you skipped out on The Birds than you aren't missing much but Rebecca kicked ass.
June 18, 2008, 9:23 p.m. CST
I will say no more on it, but no one has mentioned it yet. The Birds I actually really like, despite how much it drags starting at the middle point...
June 18, 2008, 9:27 p.m. CST
June 18, 2008, 9:41 p.m. CST
I remember seeing this movie about 10 years ago when I went through a Cagney phase, watching as many of his movies as I could get my hands on. LOVE this movie. Arthur Kennedy is top notch in it as well!
June 18, 2008, 10:01 p.m. CST
I hope it is Rear Window Quint as that is my favorite Hitchcock and in my top 10 list overall and I'd love a talkback for that one. <br><br> Soylent - Definitely keep that cartoon mindset as that is fairly accurate for all the non-romantic musicals I've ever seen. Looney Tunes was definitely inspired by a lot of them (perhaps even in reference to the name 'Looney <i>Tunes</i>"
June 18, 2008, 10:14 p.m. CST
Notorious from 1946 starring Cary Grant. Great film
June 18, 2008, 10:21 p.m. CST
by Ninja Nerd
Coincidentally, I recently put Rear Window and Disturbia (what a stupid title!) on my iPod and watched them back-to-back on a long trip. No contest. Hitchcock was a genius. Even his "weaker" efforts...Marnie comes to mind...were better than most allegedly good movies. For the record, my favorite Hitchcock movie...by a slim margin over Rear Window and several others...is North By Northwest. Besides Cary Grant, you get James Mason and Martin Landau in great roles. ML is excellent playing the henchman who seems to have a serious man crush on his boss. It's been done a zillion times since, seriously and for laughs, but not as good as this. As a added bonus, the Professor is Leo G. Carroll, who was the not-so-mad scientist in "Tarantula" and went on a few years later to play the boss on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and John Beradino (Sgt. Emile Klinger...the cop who arrests the very drunk Cary Grant) who went on to play Dr. Hardy on General Hospital for years. The score, the cinematography, the dialogue, the acting of the leads...all just top notch.
June 19, 2008, 1:01 a.m. CST
Last I remember, that's where it STOPPED dragging...
June 19, 2008, 1:32 a.m. CST
by Red Dawn Don
REAR WINDOW (1954) or THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956). FOUL PLAY with CHEVY CHASE is a great remake of TMWKTM. Director Colin Higgins died in 1988 of AIDS. Colin also wrote HAROLD AND MAUDE and SILVERSTREAK. I bet the Hitchcock movie that has been seen the least is FAMILY PLOT (1976) with BRUCE DERN. I am one of the few who really likes FAMILY PLOT.
June 19, 2008, 5:26 a.m. CST
How on Earth - raised by a mother - have you never seen SOUND OF MUSIC? Jesus god. How is that even possible? I can't fathom that.
June 19, 2008, 7:56 a.m. CST
One of the true great directors. This guy still doesn't get the recognition and respect he deserves. On the Waterfront, A Streetcar named Desire, Splendor in the Grass, Panic in the Streets, East of Eden!<p> McCarthy was a nutjob and I respect anyone who stood up to him, but I can't blame the ones who decided to cooperate with the House UnAmerican Activities Comittee. Those were some tough times. Most people were trying to protect their families. I don't think any of us can understand that kind of pressure, and none of it changes the fact that Kazan was one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.
June 19, 2008, 8:30 a.m. CST
I love a good musical. Meet Me in St Louis is the one though (even Romero ripped off a scene for Night of the Living Dead). Bet the Hitchcock is a British era one...
June 19, 2008, 10:36 a.m. CST
by Miami Mofo
From the 'Giving Away My Age' department, I still remember the first time I saw The Sound of Music. It was on Broadway with Mary Martin. I was quite young but my Mom and brother tell me that I bumped into Mamie Eisenhower. And so began my first run-in with the Secret Service. :~) As for movie musicals, maybe it's because I grew up in N.Y. but I really prefer musicals live on stage rather than on film. To me, filmed musicals are just missing something.
June 19, 2008, 10:48 a.m. CST
I was wondering what the first movie would be that would get Harry to flip out... I've been waiting for it... just don't fire me. The economy sucks and I really, really need this job, man!
June 19, 2008, 12:54 p.m. CST
by Lenny Nero
"Sound Of Music," as you may have seen in your talkbacks, is kind of on my shitlist, along with most of Rodgers & Hammerstein's films and shows. These talkbackers who misunderstand and hate musicals? It's R&H's fault, turning a beautiful genre into bullshit family bullshit with bullshit overly simplistic songs topped with bullshit forced themes and bullshit tackiness. <p>But you're into Fred and Ginger stuff, as well as Busby Berkeley, so I know you know what the genre can be at the top of its game. There are so many wonderful musicals that treat its audience like adults and gives passion and emotion that most non-musicals cannot even dream of. <p>But prepare yourself for three hours of lame proselytizing (Nazis are bad? Really?), hummable but forgettable music and hideously grating children singing.
June 19, 2008, 1:48 p.m. CST
Hidden in all the great musicals is a certain darkness, a twisted reality that rears its ugly head; CABARET certainly has it, CHICAGO does, too; I think that the best musicals like 42ND STREET have to reach into the nether regions of the soul to succeed.
June 19, 2008, 1:59 p.m. CST
by Lenny Nero
...an economical way of storytelling. (I thought about this just a minute ago when I was taking a shit, woohoo.) A musical number can sum up wasted minutes upon minutes that regularly scripted films often struggle to achieve. <p>Let's look into the movie "Shall We Dance," the 1937 movie with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Late in the film, Astaire finds that he cannot be with Ginger's character, romantically and otherwise. They take one final ferry ride together, and he finally expresses his feelings. Is it a scene full of multiple unrequited glances or stop-and-start dialogue as he looks within his own psyche? No. He sings a slow, romantic version of "They Can't Take That Away From Me." In two minutes, Astaire gets to something that could take an entire movie in a non-musical form. <p>This is just an example of what I mean. A lot of musical are broad, true, but a lot aren't, and broad should not be what people think musicals are like, because that's simply not true. You just have to look.
June 19, 2008, 2:24 p.m. CST
something in a way other than straight exposition. You are right, it is a way of summing up a lot of information quickly but with emotion. Take for example Les Miserables. Fantine's song "I Dreamed a Dream", which gives us her entire backstory as well as her current mindset, and makes us feel her desperation ("I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I'm living"). So when she goes from factory worker to prostitute in (stage-time) 2 minutes it's not out of left-field and we can sympathise with her plight.<p>Speaking of taking a dump, put on the soundtrack of West Side Story and go to Tony's song "Something's Coming" and imagine it's being sung by a guy on the toilet. But be warned, once you do this you may never be able to listen to it again in any other context.
June 19, 2008, 2:35 p.m. CST
by Lenny Nero
A stage version, at least. I was one of the Jets. And that just puts the icing on the cake. Like when I was in "Grease" and the "Hand Jive" became...well...the "Hand Job." <p>Theatre people are foul beasts.
June 19, 2008, 2:51 p.m. CST
lyrics to "Greased Lightning" or did they clean it up, like that Christopher Walken SNL skit ("pussy wagon" to "have you ever seen a dragon")?<p>According to the lyrics you sould say you ARE a Jet since "when you're a Jet you're a Jet all the way, from your first cigarett to your last dying day". Little boy, you're a man; little man, you're a king.
June 19, 2008, 4:23 p.m. CST
There are always going to be significant movies before your time that you haven't seen. There are some fairly big movies from my time I haven't seen. Either they've been critically praised, or done boffo box office . . . I just haven't gotten around to them. I still haven't seen every Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, John Wayne, or Audrey Hepburn movie, and it's been a desire of mine to do so for years. And Jimmy Stewart, I haven't seen all the Jimmy Stewart movies yet. Mostly the westerns. Still, I want to see 'em.<br><br>Quint is just doing what most folks who love film will need to do at some point--figure out all the big one's he hasn't seen that he wants to, and start working his way through them.<br><br> Of big movies to have never seen, The Sound of Music doesn't seem like that big of a deal to me. I love Gone with the Wind, but I only really sat down and watched it for the first time when I was, like, 33. I've seen it like 6 times since, but sometimes it takes time (and my Dad watched GWTW constantly when I was a kid, I just skipped it).
June 19, 2008, 4:24 p.m. CST
Is Southpark: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. "What would Bryan Boytano Do" is, like, the perfect movie-musical song.
June 19, 2008, 5:01 p.m. CST
by Lenny Nero
And yes, we kept the original "Greased Lightning" lyrics. I did go to a Catholic school, but it happened to be a Catholic school in Berkeley. Hell, the next year, we did "Man Of La Mancha" and had a pretty vicious rape scene. <p>I did, however, laugh really fucking hard at the SNL skit, because it was a conversation that was definitely had with the administration. But instead of censoring it, we allowed them to show up at the beginning of the musical, since technically the real show is done as a flashback. <p>And for the record, I did "West Side Story" post-high school in an actual production, so definitely no censorship issues there.
June 19, 2008, 6:22 p.m. CST
I'm off to see Wanted, but will be back with my thoughts on San Quentin, which I watched a few hours ago. Good stuff... stay tuned!
July 5, 2008, 11 p.m. CST
Aug. 27, 2009, 11:24 p.m. CST
the music MADE this movie. Wow.
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