The Public Enemy (1931)

I’d like to start off by saying this genre of crime/the gangster is probably one of my favorites. I don’t know, there’s just something about they way these people live, behave, speak and dress that’s captivating to me.

When I first heard the title, I initially thought that “Public Enemies” (2009) was a remake of this.

But after Friday I’m 99.999999% sure it isn’t. It’s not, right?

Well anyways, it was extremely interesting to see where the modern gangster/crime films have come from and the small differences that make them so different. For example, in “The Public Enemy” the main character, Tom Powers (James Cagney), wasn’t really the top dog or the boss- he had people over him. He seemed like a small fry in the criminal community. In today’s gangster movies the main character usually climbs to be the guy on top, like in “Scarface”. That was just a small disappointment.

Another small difference was that the most firepower Tom Powers ever had were pistols. In today’s movies the characters wield huge machine guns, and everybody loves big guns, right?

Also, the editing was sometimes rough and sloppy- it’s hard to miss. I remember in one scene where Tom ends a conversation with his mother and she walks away, it appeared as if she teleported. Maybe it was the best they could do, with the technology and raw footage and whatnot.

Aside from these petty things, the thing I noticed the most was that this movie was deep; it had a point.

It had references to many controversial issues at the time, like homosexuality, women, and the war. I loved how you could sort of get the gist of the culture just from this film. In today’s movies you just don’t see the same things.

This is the greatest difference I was talking about earlier. For me, ending the movie with this was the point of the movie. All great films/television have points to them, they’re not just random stories that people want to see. They try to comment on or teach something relative to the time. Maybe that’s why Tom Powers did not have gatling guns, or was not the boss; so the audience could relate more to an “average” man in the mob.

Although the message of this film is not crystal clear, I believe it means that the public’s community is their responsibility. The state of it and the crime that it experiences is a problem for us to solve, so an endless cycle of death does not ensue.

Well, that’s just my two cents, thanks for reading! =)

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66 Responses to “The Public Enemy (1931)”

  1. Natalie Bernabe Says:

    I definitely agree with you on the fact that the movie’s main point was not just some big war on another gang, and big guns and whatnot. It posed a real question to the public, as to what do we do about organized crime. The end of Tom Powers was the beginning of a new cycle, though, when you see the brother walking towards the camera, like “It’s not over till it’s over” kind of feel. But crime movies, and this one in particular, did really give a sense of where women stood, and the reality of the crimes they were committing.

  2. Tom Schalk Says:

    Glad to know I wasn’t the only one who confused Public Enemies as a remake (didn’t see it though…was it good?)

    Anyways, the movie was definitely centered around morality and what we do in the presence of crime and it’s aftermath.

    Can we also agree that the obliviousness of the mother was annoying? Yes, I’m sure it was a common stereotype seen in movies of that era, but since I’m used to movies without that bias, I found it irritating.

  3. sandra411 Says:

    I agree with you ! crime movies tend to be my favorite genre too , I guess its something about the whole godfather feel that I like haha ! the movie was definitely trying to get a point across and sometimes that point might not of been that clear. These old gangster movies shaped how our present movies are now for sure! and I agree with you about the controversial issues. It was good to see that even back in the day these things did not go unnoticed.

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