“G” Men (1935)

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*. The “G” is placed in quotation marks in the title. It stands for “Government Men” (they weren’t the FBI yet but only the Bureau of Investigation). Its first use is usually attributed to Machine Gun Kelly, who, when he was captured, is said to have cried out “Don’t shoot, G-Men!” For the record, the origin of the “G” in G-string is still obscure, with no universally agreed upon etymology. The G-spot is named after the German gynecologist Ernst Gräfenberg.
*. The movie-within-a-movie intro that was added for a 1949 re-release is distracting, and makes it seem like we’re watching a recruitment film for the FBI. Which isn’t far off the mark.

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*. I don’t much care for this film. I find it’s more of a historical artefact today than a movie I enjoy. Most of all I find it formulaic and dull. That said, contemporary audiences were thrilled and it did huge box office, becoming one of the most profitable films of its time as well as being (in Richard Jewell’s phrase) “rapturously received” by critics.
*. Cagney is the spark plug, of course, but he doesn’t seem fully engaged. The plot is cartoonish and predictable. You know right away that Davis won’t cut it as a defence lawyer. Look how he tosses that “greaseball” out of his office! Then you know his buddy is going to get killed, which means he’ll have to join the Feds to avenge him. Then we have the problem of the two women who both want Cagney. One of them will have to die. Which one: the dancer/gangster’s moll (Ann Dvorak), or the nurse (Margaret Lindsay)? Take your time to think about it. You’ve got till the end of the movie.

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*. Ann Dvorak just looks odd, doesn’t she? Not a conventional leading lady, though talented enough to get a lot of work.
*. The backstory: Warners had been cashing in on crime films that seemed to glamorize the gangster lifestyle. Censors were getting upset. Audiences were getting bored. And so the genre reversed polarity, championing crimefighters. Presto! Instead of being in trouble with the authorities you now had J. Edgar Hoover’s favourite movie (albeit after some initial misgivings). In Bullets or Ballots Edgar G. Robinson basically did the same switcheroo, changing sides just as Cagney does here. A new genre was born.

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*. The fight scenes and shootouts are hit and miss. No one looks like they’re really taking a punch, though Cagney does a good judo flip. The gun fights are noisy and thrilling but don’t make a lot of sense. You can see the bad guys blazing away at the cops at point blank range, but never see a cop being killed because it was against the Production Code. This is also why the murder of Davis’s buddy Buchanon is only shown indirectly, in shadow play, at the beginning.
*. Then again, how many times have we seen good guys stand tall against an army of villains as bullets explode harmlessly all around them? That’s a cliché that’s nearly as old as film.
*. Speaking of clichés, what was the first movie to have a burning car falling off a cliff or rolling down a hill? This must have been one of the first.
*. When Cagney does take a couple of bullets I like how his injuries are dismissed as only a shot to the chest and one that has “creased his skull.” Those sound pretty serious to me! But they won’t keep “Brick” Davis in bed for long! Not when his girl is in trouble!

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