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The Public Enemy (1931)

aka The Public Enemy

Directed By: 
Details: 83 mins · English


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As youngsters, Tom Powers (James Cagney) and his lifelong friend Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) engage in petty theft, selling their loot to "Putty Nose" (Murray Kinnell). When the pair are young men, Putty Nose persuades them to join his gang on a fur warehouse robbery, assuring them he will take care of them if anything goes wrong. When Tom is startled by a stuffed bear, he shoots it, alerting the police, who kill gang member Larry Dalton. Chased by a cop, Tom and Matt have to gun him down. However, when they go to Putty Nose for help, they find he has left town.

Tom's straitlaced older brother Mike (Donald Cook) tries, but fails to talk Tom into giving up crime. Tom keeps his activities secret from his doting mother (Beryl Mercer). When America enters World War I in 1917, Mike enlists in the Marines.

In 1920, with Prohibition about to go into effect, Paddy Ryan (Robert Emmett O'Connor) recruits them as beer "salesmen" (enforcers) in his bootlegging business. He allies himself with noted gangster "Nails" Nathan (Leslie Fenton).

The bootlegging business becomes ever more lucrative, and Tom and Matt flaunt their wealth. However, when Tom gives his mother a large wad of money, Mike rejects the gift. Tom tears up the banknotes and throws them in his brother's face. When Mike states that Tom's success is based on nothing more than "beer and blood" (the title of the book upon which the film is based), Tom retorts: "Your hands ain't so clean. You killed and liked it. You didn't get them medals for holding hands with them Germans."

Tom and Matt acquire girlfriends, Kitty (an uncredited Mae Clarke) and Mamie (Joan Blondell) respectively. Tom eventually tires of Kitty; in a famous scene, when she complains once too often, he pushes half a grapefruit into her face. He then drops her for Gwen Allen (Jean Harlow), a woman with a self-confessed weakness for bad men.

When Nails dies in a horse riding accident, a rival gang headed by "Schemer" Burns takes advantage of the resulting disarray, precipitating a gang war. Matt is gunned down in public, with Tom narrowly escaping the same fate. Furious, Tom takes it upon himself to single-handedly settle scores with Burns and some of his men. He himself is seriously wounded in the shootout, and ends up in the hospital.

When his mother, brother and Matt's sister Molly come to see him, he reconciles with Mike and agrees to reform. However, he is kidnapped by the Burns mob from the hospital. Later, his dead body is returned to the Powers home.

Release Dates:

Theatrical : 1931-04-23 : United States of America

DVD : 2005-01-25