’13 Rue Madeleine’ on TCM

The World War II spy thriller 13 Rue Madeleine (1947) is built around no less than the creation of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services). A newsreel-like prologue that recounts the origins of the military intelligence network that later became the CIA, put together from the ground up after the bombing of Pearl Harbor with military and civilian recruits alike, segues from documentary to docudrama to follow a team of agents from their initial training to a vital mission in Nazi-occupied France. The film takes its name from the address of Gestapo headquarters in the port city of Le Havre on the Normandy coast, a location that dominates the finale of the film, and builds its fictional mission on the real threat of the German V-1 missiles and the Allied campaign of misinformation in the lead-up to D-Day.

13 Rue Madeleine was the second feature from producer Louis de Rochemont, who previously spent a decade producing the “March of Time” newsreel series, the most widely seen non-fiction films on American screens. In many ways it is an unofficial sequel to his feature debut The House on 92nd Street (1945), a wartime espionage thriller based on the real-life case of the FBI tracking down a ring of German spies in New York City. De Rochemont’s background informed the film: it was based on a true story and largely shot on location, and the espionage drama, which was defined as much by the workaday procedure of the American agents as by the melodramatic storyline and the exotic danger of covert spies and double agents, was framed by authoritative narration. De Rochemont and director Henry Hathaway brought a realist aesthetic to the studio thriller and reunited with screenwriter John Monks, Jr., narrator Reed Hadley, and veteran cinematographer Norbert Brodine for 13 Rue Madeleine. Brodine’s mix of natural light, location shooting, and “you are there” docu-drama compositions with heightened, expressionist lighting and dramatic angles to build tension in key scenes helped define de Rochemont’s influential approach.

James Cagney plays Bob Sharkey, a founder of America’s new counter-intelligence agency. The character was originally modeled on OSS founder William “Wild Bill” Donovan, but Donovan objected to the film’s portrayal of the agency. The organization was renamed 077 in the film and similarities to Donovan were obscured in rewrites. Cagney had formed Cagney Productions with his brother, Bill, in 1942, and was still under contract to Warner Bros., but he took time out to take the lead in 13 Rue Madeleine for Fox, partly as a favor to Darryl Zanuck and partly for a generous paycheck to help float his struggling production company.

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Plays on Thursday, March 14 on TCM

MOD Movies: ‘The Crowd Roars’ for James Cagney

The Crowd Roars (1932) (Warner Archive), a car racing drama directed by Howard Hawks (who had raced cars himself) and starring James Cagney as racing champion Joe Greer, is as rip-roaring a speed drama as you get in 1932. Hawks, who also wrote the original story, tells you exactly what the film is about in the opening shots: a spectacular wreck on a dirt track, the animated response of the spectators leaping up to get a better view, and then the title. We know exactly why The Crowd Roars. The rest turns on sibling bonds broken in rivalry (Eric Linden is his talented kid brother) and romance and a spiral into defeat after the fiery death of a teammate on the track. (The Tom Cruise race picture Days of Thunder borrows a lot form this film.)

Cagney is the most extreme version of the Hawks hero, whose callous dismissal of his long-suffering girl (poor, hopelessly obsessed Ann Dvorak) borders on abusive, but he’s also more hotheaded and less disciplined than the usual self-contained Hawks man: a hypocrite, a drinker, a risk-taker whose impatience and anger kills his best friend. Joan Blondell gets second billing as Dvorak’s best friend, who seduces Linden in revenge and ends up falling in love with the kid, and Hawks puts real-life driving champs in the pits and sidelines. You may not recognize them by face or even name today, but they’re easy to spot – they’re the ones who can’t act. But don’t worry, they don’t slow down the film.

Hawks fills the film with real racing footage, including some dramatic crashes, interspersed with his staged scenes, and he drives it with an energy to match the onscreen speed. The film was originally released at 85 minutes, then cut for rerelease. The original cut is apparently lost so this is the 70-minute version, which also may contribute to the film’s headlong momentum.

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Classics: James Cagney Has To ‘Run For Cover’

Run For Cover (Olive), directed by Nicholas Ray, is a rare western starring James Cagney, an actor usually known for his street smarts and urban snap. Here he’s a drifter who is almost lynched in a case of mistaken identity and a trigger-happy coward of a sheriff. He’s tough as a coil of barbed wire, this guy, and he’s made sheriff by the townsfolk, not merely by way of apology but out of respect for his character and his cool under pressure. But against his story of a juvenile delinquent drama with John Derek as the angry young man on the frontier: an orphan crippled by the posse and bitter about the hand that life has dealt him. Curiously this came out the same year as Ray’s other story of misunderstood teens, Rebel Without a Cause, but John Derek has none of James Dean’s anxious energy or expressiveness and “Run For Cover” is an otherwise conventional western with some interesting edges. Watch for Ernest Borgnine in a small role. Blu-ray and DVD, no supplements.

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Gangster Gods and Monsters on MSN

In anticipation of Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, I surveyed the gangster movies for the bad and beautiful of anti-heroes of the genre for MSN Movies.

Kiss Me Deadly: Hollywood’s Baddest Screen Gangsters

From Robin Hood to Jesse James, we’ve always had a soft spot for outlaws, idealizing them as folk heroes and romanticizing them as rebels. But gangsters hold an allure all their own. When their exploits exploded across the media and burned up movies screens during the depths of the depression, the country became entranced by these rebels without a cause. That they were killers, sociopaths and ruthless opportunists with a gang and a gun was beside the point. They were rock stars with a tommy gun: sexy and savage, dapper and dangerous, seductive and explosive.

Read more about James Cagney, Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow, Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone, Chow Yun-fat, Alain Delon (the most beautiful of the screen gangsters) and more on MSN here.

DVD of the Week – ‘Warner Gangsters Collection Volume 3’ – March 25, 2008

In the 1930s, Warner Bros. ruled the underworld genre of gangster movies, all but defining the genre with Little Caesar and The Public Enemy and making James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson the definitive gangland anti-heroes. As the Hayes Code put the kibbosh on the more extreme expressions of outlaw blasts of anti-social behavior and rat-a-tat violence, Cagney and Robinson calmed their illegal activities and even took their turns playing cops and DAs while Warners brought supporting actor Humphrey Bogart into the criminal fold. Warners is now on its third collection, and while the six-disc box set Warner Gangsters Collection Volume 3 is left with some of their lesser titles, it does feature one of the studio’s snappiest pre-code genre hybrids, Lady Killer (1933), a dynamic collision of gangster drama and show-biz comedy with James Cagney.

The film clocks in at a brisk 75 minutes and is already a third over before he even gets to Hollywood and hustles his way to success a second time, this time from movie extra to movies star. Cagney is at his insolent best as the perpetual motion wiseguy, always with a ready crack yet resilient enough to laugh at a creative insult lobbed his way. This pre-code production also features its share of saucy and salacious bits (watch Cagney drag Mae Clarke out of his bedroom by her hair) and a violent gunfight finale.

The six-disc set also features Cagney in Picture Snatcher (1933) and Mayor Of Hell (1933), Cagney co-starring with Edward G. Robinson in Smart Money (1931), Robinson in Brother Orchid (1940), and Humphrey Bogart in Black Legion (1937), which is more social drama than gangster film but can fit the bill in pinch. Each of these films are also available separately.

Read the complete review here.


From pre-code to post-code, Warners releases its definitive version of its genre-busting R-rated 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde: 2-Disc Special Edition.

This new edition is highlighted by the new three-part, 64-minute documentary “Revolution! The Making of Bonnie and Clyde,” as definitive a portrait of the production and release of the film as you’ll find. Directed by Laurent Bouzreau, it features interviews with almost every major participant, from producer/star Warren Beatty and director Arthur Penn to costume designer Theadora Van Runkle, art director Dean Tavalouris, and editor Dede Allen. Beatty is in fine, reflective form as he discusses his first film as a producer and his creative input and the portrait of the set that he and others (including co-stars Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons) describe was not always cordial, but it bustled with creative energy.

The release also features two deleted scenes (without audio, subtitles provided), wardrobe tests with Warren Beatty, and a History Channel documentary on the real Bonnie and Clyde.

Read the complete review here.

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