best film:  White Heat by a mile. As good as Yankee Doodle Dandy is and Roaring Twenties (Cagney’s second best film) is the answer here is easily the 1949 crime masterpiece. Cagney is a bat out of hell with a mother complex. It’s a marvelous role and Cagney’s explosive performance is pitch perfect. I’m not sure it’s a masterpiece without that ending—but—by god—that ending.

best performance: White Heat. Cagney came to fame playing gangsters and there’s no debating that White Heat is the pinnacle of his career. It’s a little strange that it would come so far after his prime (he was an actor of the 1930’s and this came on the turn of the 1940’s going into the 1950’s). Cody Jarrett has it all. Cagney plays him with unsurpassed energy, there’s Freudian stuff galore here of course, and he’s frankly quite frightening—close to literally a tour-de-force.

stylistic innovations/traits:  Cagney debuted 1930, became a star with The Public Enemy (first of the famous trio of early gangster films that include Little Caesar (1931) and Scarface (1932)) and dominated the decade along with Gable and a few others. He’s in 8 archiveable films in the 1930’s He made two films with Bogart in 1939 and it’s fascinating because Cagney is the star and Bogart the heavy (albeit a talented heavy). Bogart hadn’t perfected his style yet and Cagney is clearly in top form—that would change despite the fact that Cagney’s two best performances came in the 1940’s he could. Cagney was a bulldog and played tough characters even in his musicals—which certainly show his talent as a performer and range. His two films with Raoul Walsh put him where he is on this list- White Heat is a masterpiece and Roaring Twenties is a MS top 5 of the year quality film.

directors worked with:   Walsh (2) and this is the most important of his auteurs—Bacon (2) gave him diversity (musical and western) and Curtiz (2)…he also worked once a piece with Hawks, Wilder, Nicholas Ray and Milos Forman

Top 5 Performances:

  1. White Heat
  2. Yankee Doodle Dandy
  3. The Roaring Twenties
  4. The Public Enemy
  5. Angels with Dirty Faces


Archiveable films

1931- The Public Enemy
1933- Footlight Parade
1935- A Midsummer Night’s Dream
1935- G-Men
1936 – Ceiling Zero
1938- Angels With Dirty Faces
1939- Oklahoma Kid
1939- The Roaring Twenties
1942- Yankee Doodle Dandy
1949- White Heat
1950- Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye
1955- Love Me Or Leave Me
1955- Run For Cover
1961- One, Two, Three
1981- Ragtime