Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Warner Archive Grab Bag: James Cagney - THE OKLAHOMA KID and HERE COMES THE NAVY ""

Monday, March 31, 2014

Warner Archive Grab Bag: James Cagney - THE OKLAHOMA KID and HERE COMES THE NAVY

THE OKLAHOMA KID(1939; Lloyd Bacon)
Cagney plays the titular outlaw rascal in this great little western set during the Oklahoma land rush (surprised I haven't seen more films use this setting, but I am sure there are several out there). The Kid gets himself in hot water early on when he steals some money consigned to pay Native Americans for their land from thieves Whip McCord (Humphrey Bogart) and his gang. McCord (great name) has one purpose with the land rush proceedings getting underway - to be a"sooner" and sneak out ahead of everyone else to claim land in a territory that is set to become a new town. With his land claim he wishes to leverage the gambling and saloon rights in the new settlement (what will be Tulsa). I love me some Bogart and he always plays a great villain as well as a hero. I occasionally forget how versatile an actor he was. He has a sneer to end all sneers. He's full-on suited up here in the prototypical black outfit (with hat to match) and he carries it off perfectly. It's always pleasing to see Cagney and Bogart go head to head in any film, but this as an refreshing change of pace from the gangster stuff. Cagney's Jim Kincaid is a very interestingly progressive dude. When everyone else stampedes off to claim land after the rush is  started, he stays behind and has himself a quiet drink. When asked why he isn't interested in grabbing land and being a 'proper american' he expounds a cynical but truthful theory about the strong taking from the weak and and the government and politicians being at the top of that food chain. Fascinating and still prescient. Kincaid is avery affable and charming fellow though, quick with a gun and always trying to go for the smart play. Overall the movie is (mostly) pretty breezy, carried tonally in no small part by Cagney. It has a couple unexpected turns which are always welcome and a solid showdown. Well worth checking out.

HERE COMES THE NAVY (1934; Lloyd Bacon)
HERE COMES THE NAVY makes no real bones about the fact that it is pretty much a straight Navy recruitment film. The stock footage of battleships under the opening titles combined with the triumphant march music that underscores it, declares that the Navy is the place to be in a much more uplifting way than the Village People ever pulled off. James Cagney, Pat O'Brien and Frank McHugh play sailors "Chesty", "Biff" and "Droopy" respectively (great names). Basically, Chesty and Biff have a bit of a vendetta against each other after a few incidents and a fistfight. Being a guy who really commits to his revenge plots, Chesty joins the Navy to come after Biff. As Homer Simpson once taught us, revenge is not the right reason to do something, so Chesty must learn that on his own and eventually become a proper sailor. Along the way, he falls for Biff's sister (played by the lovely Gloria Stuart) and becomes good pals with Droopy. Frank McHugh always delivers on his second fiddle roles and this film is no exception. The movie has a fun climactic bit with a dirigible. Cagney and O'Brien are good foils for each other and they elevate what would be a rather average movie otherwise.

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