Saturday, September 13, 2008

Picture Snatcher

TCM is showing Rear Window overnight tonight as part of a night of movies dedicated to Thelma Ritter. The story is well-known; James Stewart plays a photographer who's cooped up in his apartment after breaking his leg, and spots an apparent murder in an apartment across the courtyard. However, I'd like to recommend a movie about photography that's fairly obscure today: 1933's Picture Snatcher.

James Cagney stars as Danny, a small-time hoodlum who's just gotten out of jail and is looking for a good job. He doesn't have many skills, but the editor of a tabloid newspaper (Ralph Bellamy) decides to give him a job as a photographer. It turns out that Danny is good at getting the pictures the paper wants: he uses the same tricks of deception, if not outright larceny, to get a photo. He even promises to get a photo from an upcoming execution, something that would be highly illegal -- although this wass actually based on a real-life incident. (Warning: some readers may find the picture in the link disturbing.)

Picture Snatcher is in many ways typical for a Warner Brothers movie of the period. It's fast-paced, and it's a gangster movie, but also has a bit of a social message. In addition to the main story, there's also a love triangle that's not without its problems for Danny. On the one hand, there's a wisecracking blonde lady reporter who has a thing for Danny. His true love, however, is Pat, who just happens to be the daughter of the policeman who originally arrested Danny. It's an overused plot device, but what are you going to do? Cagney is excellent, as always, even if this isn't one of his best-known works. He easily pulls off Danny's bravado, making a fairly thin story a joy to watch. The rest of the cast is good, too, although to be honest, they mostly serve as foils for Cagney.

Picture Snatcher was released to DVD in 2008 as part of Volume 3 of the Warner Brothers Gangster Collection. It's quite a good thing that it's on DVD, too. Despite starring James Cagney, Picture Snatcher shows up all too rarely on TV, which is a shame since it's really a fun little gem.

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