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Film / Lady Killer

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Lady Killer is a 1933 crime drama film directed by Roy Del Ruth.

Dan Quigley (James Cagney) is James Cagney in a 1930s movie—namely, a rambunctious tough guy. After getting fired from a job as a movie theater he falls in with a gang of con artists led by a fellow named Duke (Leslie Fenton). Dan's criminal talents soon make him leader of the gang. Together they start a nightclub which provides cover for their main business of robbing rich folks. Meanwhile, Dan falls in love with the only female member of the gang, Myra (Mae Clarke).

The joys of robbing the 1% turn sour when one of Dan's fellow thieves kills a servant during the course of a robbery. Dan and the gang light out for California, but when Dan is arrested at the train station, Duke persuades Myra to ditch Dan and run away with Duke and the bankroll. Dan is left broke and alone in Los Angeles, until he gets a job...as a film extra. He then proceeds to become a movie star, which lands him a new girlfriend, lovely actress Lois Underwood (Margaret Lindsay). Things are going quite well for Dan until Duke, Myra, and the gang show back up, wanting their cut.

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Tropes:

  • AstroTurf: Dan helps his movie career along by writing fan letters to himself.
  • Blackmail: Duke and the gang demand $10,000 from Dan the movie star to get out of town. He pays, but they don't leave.
  • Brownface: In-Universe. Dan gets spray-painted and wears a black wig to play a Native American in a movie.
  • By the Hair: Dan reacts to Myrna showing up in his penthouse and trying to worm herself back into his life by grabbing her by the hair caveman-style and dragging her out. (Note that Clarke and Cagney do the old show-business trick in which she's actually holding onto his wrists.)
  • Contrived Coincidence: Duke and Myra, who fled New York separately, both decide to run to Los Angeles independently. Once there they run into each other at random.
  • Dark Chick: Myra, the one woman in the gang, whose good looks are clearly part of the modus operandi. One scheme has Myra strategically dropping her purse, so unsuspecting marks will return the purse to her and get roped into a crooked card game.
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  • Enforced Method Acting: In-Universe. For a scene in which Dan's character is supposed to put off Lois's character with his bad breath, the director insists that Dan actually eat a bunch of garlic. Since Dan and Lois have had a spat, he eats his garlic with great gusto, and she is crying tears after he kisses her.
  • Establishing Character Moment: When Dan shows up to his job as a theater usher—they are ridiculously militarized, standing at attention in a line—disheveled, late, and chewing gum.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: How to make a Hollywood birthday party really wacky? Let loose a bunch of monkeys to cause havoc.
  • Funny Foreigner: The uptight film director, who tells his actors stuff like "Give me the feeling!" with a thick European accent. (This may or may not be a goof on Warner Brothers' top director Michael Curtiz.)
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "GAY FILM PARTY ROBBED"
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: Myra, who as it turns out still loves Dan, confesses that Duke and the gang are trailing behind and are planning to kill him.
  • Irony: Dan and Myra elect to go to Los Angeles after seeing a brochure advertising it as the "land of eternal sunshine." Their train arrives in the station during a torrential rainstorm.
  • Karma Houdini: Well after all, even if he himself didn't kill anybody, Dan was an accessory to a robbery that got someone killed. Plus all the other robberies he did. He gets away with everything.
  • Relatively Flimsy Excuse: Duke passes himself off as Myra's brother-in-law when roping Dan into a rigged card game.
  • The Roper: Myra's role in the gang, luring susceptible dudes into her apartment and into Duke's rigged poker games.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Myra likes to wear them while seducing a mark.
  • Shout-Out: When reading over the brochure for Los Angeles and the many wonders of the citrus industry in southern California, Myra gets a worried look when she read "grapefruit". This is a gag related to the already iconic scene in The Public Enemy where James Cagney shoves a grapefruit into Mae Clarke's face.
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