When it comes to gangster movies, I've always been more of a Humphrey Bogart fan rather than a Jimmy Cagney fan. Of course, the two of them made several excellent films together, and it's not that I don't like Cagney's movies. I generally like 'em a lot. It's just that Bogart is one of my all-time favorites.
But I'll still watch Cagney any time, so when I recently came across a four-movie set of his films, only one of which I'd ever seen, I didn't hesitate to snap it up. The four movies are WHITE HEAT (the only one I'd seen, and it's a great, great film), CITY FOR CONQUEST, EACH DAWN I DIE, and "G" MEN. The first one of those I watched is "G" MEN.
From 1935, it's the earliest of the four movies in this set. Cagney plays Brick Davis, a young lawyer whose education was paid for by one of the local mobsters who wants to see the kid make good. The mobster insists that Brick play it straight instead of working for criminals like him, and Brick gives it a try, even though he's not really cut out for practicing law.
Then one of Brick's friends from law school who joined the Bureau of Investigation (the forerunner of the FBI) is murdered, and Brick's desire to avenge his buddy's death leads him to his true calling. He gives up practicing law and turns to enforcing it, becoming a G-Man.
From there we're off to the races, as Brick goes through training to be a federal agent and then helps track down his friend's killer. But that just opens up a larger investigation and an even more extensive war against crime that leads to kidnapping, heart-tugging drama, and shootouts galore. There's plenty of tommy gun action in this one.
"G" MEN's cast is full of standouts from
's Golden Age. Robert Armstrong and Lloyd Nolan are fellow agents, Barton MacLane is one of the gangsters, and even B-Western stalwart Raymond Hatton gets in on the action as a messenger working for the mob. Hollywood
Not surprisingly, though, Cagney dominates the film. He was a genuine movie star, and no matter who else is in the scene or what's going on, the viewer is almost compelled to watch him. He doesn't ham it up, though, at least not too much, and is willing to let the other actors shine, too, which explains how he was able to work so well with other stars who possessed as much firepower as he did, such as Bogart in THE ROARING TWENTIES and others, and later, with Henry Fonda and Jack Lemmon in MISTER ROBERTS, also a great, great film.
"G" MEN probably doesn't belong in the top rank of Cagney's films; its script is a little too formulaic for that. But it's a solid middle-of-the-pack entry from his career, and as such, it's very well made and highly entertaining. I had a great time watching it.
One final note: as somebody who grew up watching old movies on local TV, which in those days meant a lot of scratchy, jumpy prints, I'm always amazed at how crisp and clean most of these films look on DVD. The photography in "G" MEN is top-notch, like just about everything else in the film.