PICTURE SNATCHER (WB, 1933) D: Lloyd Bacon, w/ James Cagney, Patricia Ellis. Rating: NNN; DVD package: NNN
Danny Kean is a criminal to the bone. Even though he’s ditched his gang and is going straight, every move he makes on behalf of the sleaziest newspaper in New York is crooked. He steals one photo of a grief-crazed, shotgun-toting fireman, another of the moment of death at an execution. He laughs about all of it.
Danny’s the good guy. Welcome to pre-Code Hollywood, where moral complexity is allowed, where people have sex and make snappy remarks about it and where the audience is expected to be grown-ups.
This is a comedy, but, as historians Jeff Vance and Tony Maietta point out on the commentary, it’s a Warner Brothers gangster movie underneath. We’ve got the tough guys, the molls, the snappy patter, a harsh urban look and a bullet-riddled climax. Big fun.
James Cagney, as Danny, carries the movie at breakneck speed with his trademark energy, rapid-fire delivery and physical grace. He’s always a joy to watch, and after all these years there’s still no one like him. As his editor and best pal, Ralph Bellamy does a very funny drunk, quite a surprise from an actor known for stodgy roles.
Vance and Maietta do a good job on the production history, the era and the cast bios, though if you’re into old Hollywood, you’ll likely have heard much of it before.
EXTRAS Historians commentary, vintage short, cartoon, newsreel, trailer. Full-frame, b&w. English, French subtitles.