James Cagney Appreciation Day

From Who the Hell’s in It: Conversations with Hollywood’s Legendary Actors:

One critic wrote of White Heat that only a hard-boiled director like Raoul Walsh could get away with having Cagney — during a terrible migraine attack — sit on his mother’s lap, a moment of startling intimacy. But I think Cagney could probably have got away with almost anything, because he had as a performer such amazing intensity and conviction. Whether it was shoving a grapefuit in his girlfriend’s face — in William Wellman’s highly prized if a bit overrated The Public Enemy, the 1931 gangster film that made him a star overnight — or doing a little dance step down the stairs of the White House after meeting FDR (in 1942’s Yankee Doodle Dandy), Cagney’s indisputable authority as a film personality and his flawless sense of honesty as an actor could transform even the most improbably material into something totally believable.

That grapefruit scene (shown above) is so incredible – the photo cannot come CLOSE to capturing what that moment was in the movie: its violence, its contempt, its spontanaeity. You almost wish he had hit her. That would have been cleaner, not so degrading. An incredible acting moment – Cagney at his best.

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