I’m working my way back through some movies discussed on the Bleat before. Previously they were given perfunctory treatment; here we can beat them into the ground.
“PIcture Snatcher” was chosen because it’s short; I had little time for this one. But it hardly seems scant - it crackles, as does anything with sufficient Cagney.
The trailer tells the story.
And your story ends up in the gutter. The picture snatcher:
He’s one of those lovable cons with snappy patter and a simple desire to go straight, because stir ain’t for him. Once he’s out of the joint, he asks the boys to get him bath salts, so he can enjoy a civilized luxury. If you want to know why Cagney was an immediate sensation - a panic, I tell you! - check out this clip. After a decade or two of mannered actors mouthing theatrical dialogue, Cagney must have just bounced off the screen.
Once he’s clean, he tells the boys he’s through with the rackets. He collects the money they’ve put away in his absence, and heads for a fella who’d told him to drop by for a job:
Not just an editor, but a drunk as well. Old school! (Ralph Bellamy, by the way,) As a look at 30s journalism, it’s full of the same romantic nonsense you find in all great newspaper movies - except this one is a bit more open-eyed about the business. The paper is a seamy little rag, scrappy but disreputable, and legit journalists don’t want anything to do with it, unless they’re on the way up or the way down. (If there’s one scene that might confuse people in the future, it’s the moment when one editor picks up the phone and calls an editor at another paper in town. I’m sorry, where is that paper? In the same town? They had two?)
In order to introduce Cagney to a real dame who's classy but on the level, it's necessary to bring college students into the paper. They appear on a tour, with Dorkus McThroatpipe advising them that their professor disapproves of the place. Recognize?
You will. Here's his speech. This scene should be played on the first day of any journalism class. Also the last. (Flash Video; mouse over for controls, etc.)
Love the slap and the sound of the presses stopping. That's Sterling Holloway, known to my demographic as the original voice of Winnie the Pooh.
Old-style newspaper enthusiasts will appreciate the scene in the composing room. I don't know which paper they used; they certainly had their choice back then. You want hand-coding? This is hand-coding.
As the previews told you, Cagney's character will do anything to get any picture, and that includes lying, locking up a drunk competitor, and putting his love-life on the line so he can use his secret high-tech equipment:
He uses the ankle-cam at an execution, and this would have made sense to most people in the audience. They got the reference. Here’s the shot Cagney took: a female murderer rides Old Sparky.
It's a reference to this, one of the most famous and shocking photos of the twenties, the execution of Ruth Snyder:
All in all, a great picture - I haven't even talked about the subplot with the Obligatory Oirish Cop, or the good girl vs. bad girl dynamic, or any other elements that populate the film. Of course I haven't done it justice; you have to watch it to feel the 30s come to life - and not the sleek cheerful thirties of some of the screwball movies, either. This is Warner Brothers; this is The People's Cinema!
Let's finish with this: two bits of peculiar Cagney speak. I don't know why he does this; I can only assume it's a catch-phrase, or a style of intonation that meant something to the audience. First:
The end of the film:
Wash you dere, Charlie? I have no explanation, unless both are supposed to be some odd callback to Yiddish theater. (Update: now we know.)
Oh, one more thing: the paper itself. Crude and populist it was, it still could use the word "laxity" with confidence.