Story: Dan (James Cagney) works as an usher at the local movie house, but he doesn’t put much stock in his job and doesn’t like to take attitude from his customers or bosses. So he isn’t surprised or bothered when he winds up fired for harassing the patrons, simply choosing to move on other pursuits, like booze, gambling, and crime. In one of his gambling treks, he manages to return a lost purse to Myra (Mae Clarke) and gets invited up to her room as thanks. That in turn leads him to discover that her brother-in-law happens to be running a poker game, high stakes and limited invites, but of course, a good samaritan like Dan is offered a seat. The game gets away from him and Dan loses all his cash, then discovers the purse routine was a scam to set him up to be swindled at the table. Of course, Dan doesn’t plan to take this disrespect lying down…

Entertainment Value: The era of pre-code cinema is known for being controversial, so with James Cagney on deck, you know Lady Killer is bound to be a wild ride. This one has booze, gambling, violence, crime, and Cagney on a rampage, including a scene where he drags Mae Clarke around by the hair, quite the sight all these decades later. The narrative is passable, starting off a crime story of sorts and then shifting to a lighter, more outlandish tone, though the movie remains well made and while it sounds drastic, the shift makes sense here. The comedic elements work for the most part, thanks in part to a kind of surreal spectacle involved at times, usually centered on how unpredictable and out of control Cagney’s character is throughout. The movie returns to serious drama at times and the finale is more crime than comedy, though still a fitting and well crafted conclusion. The pace is excellent and at under 80 minutes, Lady Killer fits a lot into that duration, so it is never dull or drawn out in the least. If you’re a fan of Cagney, classic cinema, or pre-code films, give this one a look.

This kind of role seems tailor made for James Cagney and he runs with it, dialing up his effort the entire movie, much to my entertainment. He throws himself into this role and never looks back, going over the top often, but never too far. This makes sense, as the character is impulsive and erratic, so it only makes sense Cagney would go for broke. The scene where he drags Mae Clarke by the hair is quite a sight to see and bound to raise a lot of eyebrows. I won’t attempt to defend the choices made, but I do think this is all within the expected parameters of Cagney in these kind of roles, so it comes across like Cagney’s Dan is the guy who does these things. The comedic elements are just as impressive here as the dramatic ones, as Cagney really commits in those moments too, in a very enthusiastic and tuned up style, which I had a blast watching here. Clarke is good as his love interest in Lady Killer and deserves a lot of praise too, as she goes for it as well and is immense fun to watch. The cast also includes Margaret Lindsay, Leslie Fenton, Henry O’Neill, and Douglass Drumbrille.

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