Sunday, March 13, 2016

City for Conquest

Since I got an Amazon gift card for Christmas, I used it to buy, amont other things, the TCM Greatest Gangster Films Collection: James Cagney, one of those four-movie box sets TCM promotes. I'd already seen three of the movies, but I wanted White Heat on DVD, and certainly didn't mind having the other three on DVD too. The one I hadn't seen before is also one that's not really a gangster movie (although there are a few gangsters in smaller roles): City For Conquest.

We start off in New York City in what looks to be about the turn of the century, maybe a bit later (the presence of gaslights in some scenes makes a bit fuzzy the exact dates the various scenes are supposed to be set). An omniscient narrator type (Frank Craven) talks up the city, and then introduces us to three kids: Googi, who's already a bit of a thief; Danny, who's already good with his fist; and their female friend Peggy. After this brief expository scene, we fast forward to sometime close to the present day (that being 1940, when the movie was released).

Danny is all grown up, and likes to practice boxing at the gym. He's a darn good boxer, having won the amateur Golden Gloves. But he has absolutely no desire to go into the professional game. Instead, Danny lives with his younger brother Eddie (Arthur Kennedy at the beginning of his film career), a gifted musician who is studying at the music school while trying to write his symphony to the "city of conquest", obviously meaning New York, and obviously patterned on Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue". To help support himself, Eddie gives music lessons. Danny, for his part, drives a truck on construction jobs to support himself and Eddie. Unfortunately, Eddie is about to have his scholarship to the music school cut due to the economic situation. Googi (Elia Kazan when he was acting before he became a director) continued with his petty crime, eventually becoming a gangster and getting sent up the river, although he's about to return home much to the delight of Danny. Peggy (Ann Sheridan)became an excellent dancer. She's also become Danny's girlfriend, much to the disappointment of her mother.

Things are about to change for all of them, when Peggy goes off to a dance competition at one of the night spots, where she dances with Murray (a very young Anthony Quinn) and does such a good job that Murray wants to take her on the road with him, the way that Vernon and Irene Castle did back in the 1910s. Danny eventually decides to get into the professional boxing game in order to support his brother, since Danny believes in Eddie's symphony. And Googi, decidedly a supporting character, helps support Danny's boxing career as best he can, to the point of betting against the champion who is backed by another gangster, when Danny finally does well enough to get a title fight. Unfortunately, the title fight goes badly because the champion's trainer cheats and puts rosin on the boxer's gloves, resulting in Danny's vision being completely screwed up during the fight and Danny going blind afterwards!

There's a happy resolution at the end, as you can probably guess. But getting there is supposed to be the fun. The getting there, however, is where I had some problems with the movie. Danny and Peggy are supposed to be a romantic item, but the spend much of the movie apart, and the way the movie switches back and forth between their stories came across to me as disjointed enough to me to result in a bit of a mess. That's a shame, because the movie is actually filled with solid acting performances. Cagney is as good as ever, while Ann Sheridan is good too. Anthony Quinn is wonderfully slimy, and Arthur Kennedy immediately shows why he was to become such a successful supporting actor. One name I haven't mentioned is Donald Crisp, playing Danny's boxing manager.

Ultimately, City for Conquest is the sort of film that I don't think I'd pay the bigger price tage that the Warner Archive Collection would want for a single movie, but one that I'm more than happy to have as part of a box set that doesn't cost much more than any of the Warner Archive discs.

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