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On this Day in Movie History April 23, 1931: The Public Enemy Released

It was on this day, April 23, 1931 the movie The Public Enemy starring James Cagney was released to the public.

The Public Enemy (released as Enemies of the Public in the United Kingdom) is a 1931 American Pre-Code crime film starring James Cagney and directed by William A. Wellman. Public Enemy was part of the wave of gangster films that appeared after the introduction of sound in cinema

The screenplay is based on the never published novel Beer and Blood penned by two by two former street thugs John Bright and Kubec Glasmon from Chicago who had witnessed some of Al Capone’s murderous gang rivalries in Chicago.

The Public Enemy follows the exploits of two working class Irish thugs, Tom Powers and Matt Doyle, who rise to power during Prohibition. (The title supposedly came from a Chicago newspaper headline that Jack Warner read.). While the supporting players include Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, Beryl Mercer, Donald Cook, and Mae Clarke, this was the film also put James Cagney on the map

Originally cast as the mild-manner friend, Cagney was quickly recast after director Wellman saw him in rehearsals to play the volatile, charismatic gang leader Tom Powers. He demonstrated just how explosive he could be in the famous grapefruit scene where he slammed his girlfriend (played by Mae Clarke) with the breakfast side.

According to Cagney, Clarke’s ex-husband had the grapefruit scene timed, and would buy a ticket just before that scene went onscreen, go enjoy the scene, leave, then come back during the next show just in time to see only that scene again.

Like many gangster films, The Public Enemy took on the airs of being a morality tale, while exploiting the subject’s violence and sensationalism at every turn. An early tagline read: “Come prepared to see the worst of women and the cruelest of men––as they really are.” Public Enemy was part of the wave of gangster films that appeared after the introduction of sound in cinema; the sound with its essential gunfire, alarms and mobster jargon parts gave the genre a rougher texture.

The movie itself became such a sensation that a New York City Times Square cinema ran the film 24 hours a day for several weeks. The Public Enemy was selected in 1998 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

1921 – Janet Blair (Martha Jane Lafferty) (actress: My Sister Eileen, The Fabulous Dorseys, The Fuller Brush Man, Black Arrow, Boy�s Night Out, Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood; died Feb 19, 2007)

1928 – Shirley (Jane) Temple Black (child actress: Little Miss Marker, Curly Top, Heidi, The Little Colonel, Poor Little Rich Girl, Wee Willie Winkie, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm; U.S. delegate to the United Nations and chief of protocol)

1930 – Alan Oppenheimer (actor: Murphy Brown, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Legend of Prince Valiant, Home Free, Eischied, Big Eddie, Trancers 4 and 5, Child of Darkness, Child of Light, The Bionic Woman, The Groundstar Conspiracy, Star!)

1939 – David Birney (actor: Oh, God! Book 2, Nightfall, Serpico [TV], St. Elsewhere, Great American TV Poll, Bridget Loves Bernie, Live Shot)

1939 – Lee Majors (Harvey Lee Yeary II) (actor: The Six Million Dollar Man, Big Valley, The Bionic Woman, The Covergirl Murders)

1942 – Sandra Dee (Alexandra Zuck) (actress: A Summer Place, Gidget, Tammy and the Doctor; died Feb 20, 2005)

1943 – Herv’ Villechaize (actor: Fantasy Island, The Man with the Golden Gun, Rumpelstiltskin, Two Moon Junction; died Sep 4, 1993)

1949 – Joyce DeWitt (actress: Three’s Company)

1957 – Jan Hooks (actress: Designing Women, Saturday Night Live, The Martin Short Show, The 1/2 Hour Comedy Hour, A Dangerous Woman, Coneheads, Batman Returns, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure)

1960 – Valerie (Anne) Bertinelli (actress: One Day at a Time, Silent Witness, Ordinary Heroes, Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp)

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