Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Smart Money (1931)

The only film to pair Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney on-screen together, this is a tough, wise-cracking pre-code picture from Warner Bros. and directed by Alfred E. Green. Robinson plays a small-time gambler who heads to the city to move in the big leagues. He quickly gets wise to the ways of the city, and uses any underhanded tricks necessary to win big, eventually setting himself up as the head of his own gambling empire, but soon finds himself up against an equally crooked DA who is determined to put an end to the racket before election time.

It's a lot of fun seeing Robinson and Cagney on-screen together, though Robinson's character gets the lion's share of screen time. Robinson, in "tough guy" mode, delivers a deceptively complex performance, confidently strutting around like a rooster when he's on top of the world, but also submissive and susceptible when confronted by his one weakness -- a pretty girl, which proves to be his undoing. Cagney is fascinating to watch, with his graceful movements, agile body and subtle shifts in posture bringing a distinctive physicality to his performance as Robinson's cocky young assistant. There's one sequence in particular, in which he performs a brief pantomime, that is a fine example of his expressive physical capabilities.

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