James Francis Cagney was an American film actor most famous for gangster roles in the 1930s
as well as for his alleged catchphrase
. He starred in some of the best gangster pictures ever made, including Angels with Dirty Faces, White Heat, The Roaring Twenties,
and The Public Enemy,
which is unfortunately mostly remembered
for a scene in which he shoves a bowl of grapefruit in a woman's face.
What isn't commonly known is that Cagney began his career as a song & dance man
. Even after he was type cast
as thugs, he leaped at chances to act and dance
in musicals whenever he could.
His tough guy persona wasn't all for show, though; Cagney staggered Warner Bros. by walking off the lot when the studio failed to honor his contract. His example set a precedent for fairer studio practices. On the other hand, Cagney's activism landed him hot water; he was branded a Commie in some circles. His iconic role in Yankee Doodle Dandy
dispelled such rumors pretty quick.Michael J. Fox
is one of his biggest fanboys, for obvious reasons
. He hosted a TV special on Cagney's life and times entitled Top of the World
.The Other Wiki
has more to say here. Tropes associated with James Cagney include:
- All Girls Want Bad Boys
- Badass in a Nice Suit
- Beam Me Up, Scotty!: Cagney lampooned his 'best-known" line at the AFI awards.
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin' : His characters almost always got their comeuppance, largely due to the encroaching Hays Code and to maintain Plausible Deniability about "glorifying violence."
- The Cast Show Off: Was a Real Life street fighter and amateur boxer. He would insist on doing his own fight scenes in movies.
- During the filming of Mister Roberts, director John Ford either wanted to prove himself or thought it would be funny to try and intimidate Cagney. Cagney threatened a full-out beatdown if Ford kept pushing him. Ford backed off.
- Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster
- Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Disclaimers aplenty.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold
- Large Ham: Yet pulled off hamminess in an effective and unnarmy way. Stanley Kubrick once cited him as an example how to do seemingly over-the-top acting while still making it dramatic.note
- Media Watchdog: A lot of his best movies were made in the early days of The Hays Code, when you could still get away with a little bit more. As the code grew in power, subsequent rereleases of some of his films had objectionable material cut. Most notably, The Public Enemy had next to no violence cut from its rereleases — but vague allusions to sexuality were.
- Momma's Boy
- Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: His movies often come with a disclaimer decrying violence to deter accusations of glorifying violence. Warner Bros. maintained that gangster pictures were meant to serve as a warning, but no one was fooled. (Not that anyone was complaining, though...)
- Pint-Sized Powerhouse: According to the man himself, he insisted on fighting men who were bigger than him. Had he beaten up someone his "own size", Cagney felt he would have been taking advantage of them.
- Self-Made Man
- Villain Protagonist
- Working Class Hero: Perhaps the original. In the Depression era, Cagney's short looks, working-class accent and rambunctious energy made him an obvious hit with the times. He was a working-class Irish immigrant who didn't make his accent poshed to work in the business.
- Yiddish as a Second Language: Growing up in New York City, Cagney learnt fluent Yiddish from his Jewish playmates.