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The Public Enemy Details


William Wellman's landmark gangster movie traces the rise and fall of prohibition-era mobster Tom Powers. We are first shown various episodes of Tom's childhood with the corrupting influences of the beer hall, pool parlor, and false friends like minor-league fence Putty Nose. As young adults, Tom (James Cagney) and his pal, Matt Doyle (Edward Woods), are hired by ruthless but innately decent bootlegger Paddy Ryan (Robert Emmett O'Connor). The boys quickly rise to the top of the heap, with all the accoutrements of success: custom-tailored tuxedoes, fancy cars, and gorgeous girls. All the while, Tom's loving (and somewhat addlepated) mother (Beryl Mercer) is kept in the dark, believing Tommy to be a good boy, a façade easily seen through by his older brother Mike (Donald Cook). Tommy's degeneration from brash kid to vicious lowlife is brought home in a famous scene in which he smashes a grapefruit in the face of his latest mistress (Mae Clarke). Some dated elements aside, The Public Enemy is as powerful as when it was first released, and it is far superior to the like-vintage Mae Clarke. James Cagney is so dynamic in his first starring role that he practically bursts off the screen; he makes the audience pull for a character with no redeeming qualities. The film is blessed with a superior supporting cast: Joan Blondell is somewhat wasted as Matt's girl, Mamie; Jean Harlow is better served as Tom's main squeeze, Gwen (though some of her line readings are a bit awkward); and Murray Kinnell is slime personified as the deceitful Putty Nose, who "gets his" in unforgettable fashion. Despite a tacked-on opening disclaimer, most of the characters in The Public Enemy are based on actual people, a fact not lost on audiences of the period. Current prints are struck from the 1949 reissue, which was shortened from 92 to 83 minutes (among the deletions was the character of real-life hoodlum Bugs Moran). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi


Awarded by
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Kubec Glasmon Best Original Screenplay 1930 Nominee
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences John Bright Best Original Screenplay 1930 Nominee


James Cagney
as Tom Powers
Donald Cook
as Mike Powers
Joan Blondell
as Mamie
Jean Harlow
as Gwen Allen
Beryl Mercer
as Ma Powers
Robert E. O'Connor
as Paddy Ryan
Leslie Fenton
as Nails Nathan
Murray Kinnell
as Putty Nose
Russell Powell
as Bartender
Purnell Pratt
as Officer Powers
Mae Clarke
as Kitty
Frankie Darro
as Matt as a Boy
Douglas Gerrard
as Assistant tailor
Eddie Kane
as Joe, the Headwaiter
Snitz Edwards
as Hack Miller
Adele Watson
as Mrs. Doyle
Landers Stevens
as Doctor
Robert E. Homans
as Officer Pat Burke
George Daly
as Machine Gunner
Charles Sullivan
as Mug
Frank Coghlan, Jr.
as Tom As A Boy
Lee Phelps
as Steve, the Bartender
Ben Hendricks, Jr.
as Bugs Moran
William Strauss
as Pawnbroker
Helen Parrish
as Little Girl
Sam McDaniel
as Black Headwaiter


William Wellman
Darryl F. Zanuck
Kubec Glasmon
Screen Story
Kubec Glasmon
Harvey Thew
Harvey Thew
Adaptation by
John Bright
Screen Story
John Bright
Gordon Clifford
Harry Barris
Ed McCormick
Max Parker
Art Director
Edward Stevenson
Costume Designer
John Bright
Short Story Author
Perc Westmore