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Film / The Public Enemy

"I ain't so tough!"

"I know what you've been doing all this time, how you got those clothes and those new cars. You've been telling Ma that you've gone into politics, that you're on the city payroll. Pat Burke told me everything. You murderers! There's not only beer in that jug. There's beer and blood — blood of men!"
Mike Powers, confronting his brother

The Public Enemy is a 1931 pre-Code Warner Bros. gangster film directed by William A. Wellman. It's often seen as the film that made James Cagney a star. It also typecast him as a tough guy and gangster, and he kept playing roles like that throughout The Thirties.

The "Public Enemy" of the film is Tom Powers (Cagney), a young man living in Chicago during Prohibition whose crimes progress from small-time theft to bootlegging and murder.

This film provides examples of:

  • Ambiguously Gay: The tailor, in who is in approximately 2 minutes of the film. See for yourself right here.
  • Battle in the Rain: Subverted—a torrential rain is falling in Chicago as Tom goes into the rival gang's headquarters to shoot it out, but all of the shooting takes place offscreen.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Seen from Matt after he is gunned down in a hail of bullets.
  • Bookends: Opens with a message that this film's purpose isn't to glorify gangsters, and closes with the message that 'The Public Enemy' is a problem in society that must be stopped.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster : Tom Powers and Matt Doyle - they get all the girls, the snappy suits, and the cars.
  • Dead-Hand Shot: One of the thieves that Putty Nose sends out on a job with Tom and Matt is shot down in the street.
  • Domestic Abuse: The infamous grapefruit-in-the-face scene.
    Tom: Ain't you got a drink in the house?
    Kitty: Not before breakfast, dear.
    Tom: I didn't ask you for any lip. I asked you if you had a drink.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: In-Universe—in fact, explicitly stated in the opening title card.
    "It is the ambition of the authors of 'The Public Enemy' to honestly depict an environment that exists today in a certain strata of American life, rather than glorify the hoodlum or criminal."
    • And again in the closing title card.
    "The end of Tom Powers is the end of every hoodlum."
  • Downer Ending: Tom's in the hospital due to his injuries from avenging a fallen comrade, and when it looks like he's about to redeem himself, he gets kidnapped by the surviving mob members. But then his family gets a call from a stranger, presumably one of Tom's pals, that Tom's coming home immediately! As the mother and sister tidy up Tom's room, his brother Mike opens the door and watches Tom's dead body collapse before him.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Tom adores his Ma, and she seems to willingly overlook his crimes.
  • The Fagin: Putty Nose, the fence and petty crook who steers young Tom and Matt into crime. Another mobster even calls him that.
  • The Irish Mob
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Putty Nose's song is cut off at the same point as earlier in the film, when Tom and Matt were kids.
  • Kubrick Stare: Tom as he walks into the rival mob's hangout, right before the shooting starts.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The first scene is Tom and Matt as schoolboy hoodlums.
  • "Mister Sandman" Sequence: Each time the movie moves to another year.
  • Officer O'Hara: A stereotypical Irish cop is friend to the Powers family.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: When teenaged Tom and Matt botch a robbery, their boss Putty Nose ditches them. But when they see Putty Nose again during Matt's wedding and follow him back home...
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: The climactic shootout, in which the camera stays outside the building and we hear a multitude of gunshots, followed by a badly wounded Tom stumbling outside.
  • Parental Favoritism: Ma Powers favors her 'Tommy boy' over elder son Mike.
  • Pie in the Face/Food Slap: The film's iconic scene has Tom smashing a half grapefruit into his girlfriend's face.
  • Pretty in Mink: Gwen Allen (Jean Harlow).
  • Rash And Calm Foils: Tom is the quick-to-anger gangster, while his older brother Mike is the calm, respectable type.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Tom's reaction to Matt's death is to steal a pair of pistols from a merchant and charge into the rival mob's hangout.
  • Slasher Smile: As he sees Matt gunned down in the street, Tom smiles. He has another psycho grin on his face as he walks into the rival mob's headquarters, seeking revenge.
  • Sound-Only Death: The camera cuts to Matt sitting at the side of the room when Tom shoots Putty Nose.
  • Stuffed into the Fridge: The way Tommy's death is revealed at the end— his corpse is delivered standing up to his family's front door.
  • Video Credits: Before the film starts to introduce the main characters.