PICTURE SNATCHER was my third James Cagney pre-Code of the week, following BLONDE CRAZY (1931) and LADY KILLER (1933). Like those films, it provided solid, fast-paced entertainment.
Cagney plays Danny Kean, who gets out of a three-year stint in Sing Sing and decides to go straight. He's always had a yen to be a newspaperman, and City Editor J.L. McLean (Ralph Bellamy) gives him a chance to make good at a tabloid newspaper.
It's strictly a lowbrow paper with a rep for printing gossip and tacky photos, but Danny does well and is on his way to a successful career in the news business. In his spare time he fends off the saucy gossip reporter (Alice White) who's supposed to be his boss's girl and courts the lovely daughter (Patricia Ellis) of the cop (Robert Emmett O'Connor) who sent him to jail.
Danny runs into trouble, however, when he wangles his way into a death row execution and sneaks a photo. (This was based on a real-life incident involving the New York Daily News.) It's quite a scoop, but it also makes him persona non grata in the "respectable" journalistic community and with his girlfriend's father.
When one of Danny's former associates (Ralf Harolde) becomes a cop killer, Danny may have a chance to redeem his reputation...
This movie is what a good Warner Bros. pre-Code is all about, rough-edged, funny, mildly racy, and sometimes shocking -- Cagney is much harder on Alice White in this than he was on Mae Clarke in THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) or LADY KILLER. Cagney is for the most part rambunctious but appealing, playing a guy who genuinely wants to have a legit career and who falls in love with the kind of woman who's a good influence. He's always interesting to watch, playing a man who thinks and talks a mile a minute -- which is sometimes too fast, as acting before he thinks gets him into trouble.
Bellamy is also effective as the hard-drinking but kind editor who treats Danny fairly even when his girlfriend threatens to come between them. White is a scene-stealer as the flamboyant Allison, who makes no secret of wanting Danny.
I really enjoyed Patricia Ellis as Cagney's sweet college student girlfriend. She was only 16 when this was filmed, but is believable as someone a couple three years older. I think the only film I've seen her in previously was STRANDED (1935). She retired from the business in 1939, married in 1940, and passed on in 1970.
PICTURE SNATCHER was directed by Lloyd Bacon and filmed by Sol Polito. It runs 77 minutes. The supporting cast includes Robert Barrat, Sterling Holloway, Hobart Cavanaugh, George Chandler, G. Pat Collins, and Arthur Vinton.
PICTURE SNATCHER is available on DVD as a single title or as part of the Warner Gangsters Collection, Vol. 3. (The set also includes Cagney's LADY KILLER.) The DVD can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix.
The movie is also shown on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is online at the TCM site.