A Movie A Day: Quint on CITY FOR CONQUEST (1940) I know this town, brother, because I got clothes on my back!
Published at: June 18, 2008, 7:48 p.m. CST by quint
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.