Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Three years before Judd Hirsch was born

Tomorrow is the birth anniversary of James Cagney, so natrually TCM is celebrating the day with a bunch of his films. Nine of them, in fact, almost all of them made in the first half decade of Cagney's Hollywood career. The day kicks off at 6:00 AM with the 1932 film Taxi!.

Cagney plays Matt Nolan, a taxi driver in New York at a time when driving a cab is even more tough of a proposition than normal: there's a taxi war going on, with the new company owned by Buck Gerard (David Landau) trying to win business away from independent cabbies like Matt and all of his friends who, although they're technically competing with one another, have an unwritten agreement on where they're going to operate. The new company doesn't care about any such agreement, and isn't just trying to win business; it'll take business by force if necessary. In this case, it meand sending in a truck-driving enforcer (Nat Pendleton) to get in an "accident" with Pops (Guy Kibbee) to try to destroy Pops' cab. No cab, no business, and an opportunity for the new company to come in. The only problem is, Pops fights back, which results in one of the members of the gang trying to destroy his taxi getting killed. Pops, unsurprisingly, gets sent to prison.

The other independents have a problem on their hands, and it isn't Pops, of course. They're facing violent attempts to drive them out of business, and unsurprisingly, they're not about to take it lying down because if they do, they'll be driven out of business just like Pops. So they hold a meeting to discuss what to do, inviting Pops' daughter Sue (Loretta Young). She surprises all of them, and most especially Matt, by saying that fighting back with violence, which is what Matt would like to do, isn't the answre. So you've got Matt and Sue butting heads, as it were. But this is also a 1930s movie, so it shouldn't be too surprising that our male lead is going to fall head over heels for our female lead, to the point that they actually get married!

But will Sue be able to tame Matt's desire for angry retribution, or will Matt crush Sue's heart by getting himself in legal trouble in a violent attempt to save his taxi business? That question comes into stark focus when Buck gets in a fight with Matt's brother Danny, leaving Danny to bleed to death. Now Matt really wants revenge, even if it goes against everything Sue has been talking about....

Taxi! is reasonably representative of the programmers Warner Bros. was making in the early 1930s. It's short, at just under 70 minutes, but it tries to put a lot of action in. Some of the plot turns you can see coming a mile away, and if this movie had been assigned to much of the stock cast who were around the studios in the early 1930s, it would be one of those pre-Codes that shows up on TCM with a bunch of people whose names are obscure now and about which you think it's mildly interesting but nothing spectacular. Taxi!, however, has James Cagney, and his presence alone is enough to bump up even an otherwise by-the-numbers pre-Code up several notches. Everybody else is professional, but as so often happens, Taxi! is Cagney's movie all the way. Watch for George Raft on the dance floor.

As far as I'm aware, Taxi! isn't on DVD.

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