With the news these days filled with so many stories of tiresome politicians -- the 2007-2008 election cycle seems to be the never-ending campaign, with New York gubernatorial politics as a sideshow -- it's rather satisfying to simply tune all that blather out and instead watch Jimmy Cagney as an FBI agent machine gunning the bad guys. No nonsense there, and the good guys win!
When the enforcement of the Production Code began in 1934, movies with gangster anti-heroes were largely out, due to concerns that popular movie stars were making crime too attractive for young viewers. The studios quickly found a new way to spin the traditional gangster movie, by shifting the focus to lawmen as heroes. Car chases and the aforementioned machine gun fights could still be filmed, as long as it was clear the gangsters were villains who would pay the price and lose to law enforcement. One of the earliest examples of this new kind of action movie was "G" MEN, which is terrific entertainment.
James Cagney plays Brick Davis, a poor kid who was put through college and law school by a kindly mobster (there's an oxymoron for you, but the film makes it work). When Brick's college roommate, an FBI agent, is gunned down, Brick decides to join the FBI himself. Brick uses his firsthand knowledge of some mob members to help the FBI solve his friend's murder case and round up a large ring of criminals.
"G" MEN is an exciting and even informative film. (One of the film's interesting angles is that the FBI agents were initially hampered in fighting organized crime because, among other things, they could not carry guns.) The movie was re-released in 1949 in celebration of the FBI's silver anniversary, and a new prologue was filmed introducing the film. That prologue is included in the print on DVD.
Cagney is great, as always -- tough, tender, fast-talking, funny, and constantly moving. The rest of the cast is excellent, particularly Robert Armstrong as Brick's skeptical boss and Ann Dvorak as a girl from Brick's past who tries to help him. Margaret Lindsay, Barton MacLane, Lloyd Nolan, and Regis Toomey are also in the cast. If you don't blink, you can spot Ward Bond as a gunman in a scene at a train station. I had to rewind to make sure it was him -- I'm not sure he spoke a word!
"G" MEN was directed by William Keighley. It runs 86 minutes.
The film is on DVD as a single-title release or as part of the Warner Bros. Tough Guys Collection, which is being reissued next week under the title Warner Bros. Gangsters Collection, Vol. 2. (The brand-new Gangsters Collection, Vol. 3 is also being issued on Tuesday.) The DVD includes a commentary track by USC professor Richard Jewell, a 20-minute featurette on the enforcement of the Production Code in the mid-'30s, and a Warner Night at the Movies with a newsreel, short, cartoon and trailers from the year "G" MEN was released.
"G" MEN has also had a video release.
"G" MEN can be seen on cable on TCM, where it next airs April 27, 2008. The trailer can be seen here.