We got a Roku and I’m filling an attached USB drive with classic movies to watch, dubbing it the “TCM drive”. Of course we always could have watched these same movies by hooking my laptop to the TV, but now it’s ever-so-slightly easier, so we celebrated by watching a couple and pretending we still get cable (I forgot to do my Robert Osbourne impression to introduce them).
Girlish weakling James Cagney is saddled with a tough-guy’s name (Biff Grimes) and an embarrassing womanizing drunk for a dad (Alan Hale, atheist farmer in Stars In My Crown). Biff’s only friends are ambitious scammer Hugo (Jack Carson, somewhat-star of Red Garters) and genial Greek barber Nick (George Tobias, in Sergeant York the same year). Cagney can’t get a girl, can’t keep a job, is studying to be a dentist because all his life his dad has blamed his poor behavior on pains in his teeth.
Cagney gets a single date with the hottest girl in town, titular blonde Rita Hayworth (Lady From Shanghai) and blows all his money on her, but as Jack Carson gets more successful, Rita ends up with Jack, and Cagney marries her pretend-feminist friend Olivia de Havilland (Cagney’s Midsummer Night’s Dream costar). Cagney is bummed, but of course Olivia is just as pretty and much nicer, so we know he’s being a dummy.
Given a vice-president job at Carson’s firm, Cagney is set up as the official scapegoat when cheap building materials lead to the death of his own dad (“my teeth don’t hurt anymore”), spends five years in prison getting his dentistry degree by mail and practicing on other inmates. He returns home to his loving wife and to the sunday afternoon framing-story, where he sees Carson as an emergency patient, and instead of killing him with nitrous oxide, realizes Cagney’s got the better life than his rich ex-friend since Rita Hayworth is a materialistic shrew.
I think Una O’Connor played a friend of Cagney’s dad and George “Superman” Reeves was a friend of Carson’s, but neither made an impression.
Based on a play from late 20’s, also filmed in 1933 with Gary Cooper and Fay Wray, redundantly in 1948 with Alan Hale Jr. and Raoul Walsh, then on TV in ’49 with Burgess Meredith, ’51 with June Lockhart and ’57 with Gordon MacRae. Adapted here by the twin Epstein brothers who wrote Casablanca and shot by James Wong Howe.