Biography of James Francis Jr. Cagney (1899-1986)

James Cagney.

American actor, whose full name was James Francis Cagney, Jr., born on July 17, 1889, in New York (United States), and who died on March 30, 1986, in Stanfordville, a district of the city where he was born.


James Cagney grew up in a humble family of Irish origin, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of New York, Yorkville. He served all sorts of crafts to get paid studies, which had to leave on the death of his father. He was hired as a theater decorator, which gave him the opportunity to debut at the Music Hall, in 1919. During the 1920s took part in musical comedies, often forming Duet with Frances Vernon, his wife, and, for five years, in plays on Broadway. Like many other actors of his generation, became Hollywood at the same time as spoken films. Silent movies had gone down in history and had become the actors time forcefully in the voice and physical dynamism.

Signed, at the same time as Bette Davis and Edward g. Robinson, a long contract with the Warner Bros. Studio in which, after a series of insignificant roles, soon came the fame incorporating the gangster Tom Powers in the unforgettable film of William A. Wellman the public enemy (1931). It cruenta, tough and violent, the interpretation of Cagney was memorable. Despite the excessive cruelty of the character, the public became quickly identified with the actor and called for their participation in other films.

And these arrived. Between 1930 and 1941, James Cagney played 38 films for the Warner Brothers company, and, while most can be considered drama of action and crime or comedies, little budget and rapid production, many of them are today considered classic authentic day of thrillers, gangster or action.

It overturned his career being on the side of the law against the crime Empire (1935), of William Keighley. Cagney, raised by a con man, becomes the F.B.I. agent, when a friend is killed by a band of gangsters. Three years later he returned to his natural, i.e., away from the law side, and wished his admirers, in the masterful Angels with dirty faces, by Michael Curtiz. Cagney is low and abject, good example of the type of gangster who claimed at the time, but will get redemption through a mythical final, exemplary, sublime: sentenced to the electric chair, the priest accepts the plea of his old friend and passes by a coward in the eyes of these young people for those who should not be an example. Cagney, imploring mercy at the foot of a policeman, got one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema.

He returned to be splendid in Each dawn I die (1939), by W. Keighley, in the role of a journalist who, after reporting the goings of the District Attorney, is victim of a montage that ends with their bones in prison. No less splendid was in the roaring twenties (1939), Raoul Walsh, where she plays a war veteran who, upon returning from the front, proud to have served his country, is located in the street, jobless and, almost, no place to sleep. You won't have choice but that, along with a cruel Humphrey Bogart and little temperance, create, during the years of the ban on dry, a Whisky distribution network. He falls but is rejected; he tries to redeem himself, driving a taxi, but they won't let him. Another actor had failed to give such dose of drama, so much disappointment, as Cagney was able to offer his character.

Nominated on three occasions to the Oscar, as best actor: in 1938 by angels with dirty faces, in 1955 for love me or leave me, editing that got it, and in 1942, by Yanky Dandy, which gave life to the composer George M. Cohan. The film offered Cagney the chance to deploy his enormous gifts as a singer and dancer of talent, something that Warner failed to exploit in its time.

A series of disputes, always around the pay, with Warner Bros, Cagney led to form, along with his brother William, once also an actor, a small, independent production company, Cagney Productions. Unfortunately, the firm did not produce movies too successful, achieving the United Artist (the company of Chaplin and Mary Pickford) to distribute only the first three (the tramp, blood on the Sun and The Time of Your Life), but opened up a path in the industry that many others would not soon follow.

In 1949, Cagney returned to Warner Bros, and did so with a masterpiece of Raoul Walsh, red hot, where played a tremendously violent gangster with a clear fixing around her mother. This time, Cagney, under the masterful direction of Walsh, brought the image of gangster, psychopath, ends of Freudian complexity. The actor, in the role of Arthur Cody Jarrett, was never as intense, electric, or dangerous, that culminates in the incredible final scene, in which Cagney, before being shot by the police, shouting from the top of a tower in flames: "Look mother, I'm on top of the world".

During the 1950s, Cagney played films, where incorporated very often characters of villains, for different film studios and, occasionally, for his own production company. Also, directed in the past decade, his only film, Short Cut to Hell (1957), based on a novel by British author Graham Greene. Unfortunate, did not return to get behind the camera. Before he returned to be directed, brilliantly, by Raoul Walsh, in a lion in the streets (1953), in which embodied an unstable trotamundos calling at a population of a State in the South, where she meets a teacher who gives balance to your life, use your people skills to erect in popular local politician and just giving up, how not, to the corrupt temptations that provides power.

John Ford directed him on two occasions and not just two good movies. One of them even managed to finish it, scale in Hawaii (1955). Sick Ford, it had to be finished by Mervyn LeRoy. The other was the price of glory (1952).

It was magnificent even doing westerns, something that seemed to not go too to their physical characteristics; an example was law of the jib (1956), by Robert Wise, a strange film in which Cagney, which had Irene Papas as companion of cast, far from undaunted maintained the type and was a powerful landowner ready to everything to retain their lands.

Temporary farewell of the screens came after a stunning performance in a masterpiece of Billy Wilder, one, two, three (1961), which gives life to MacNamara, a Senior Executive of Coca-cola in the Germany of the East, a crazed subordinate by the unexpected wedding of the daughter of his boss (wonderful, Pamela Tiffin) with a stubborn Communist (Horst Buchholz), and a husband in serious marital problems. All in absolute madness, with a rhythm devilish, supported almost in its entirety by the impressive ability of James Cagney, in one of the best roles of her life.

Only the friendship of his neighbor, director Milos Forman, got out of his retirement, 20 years later, to intervene in Ragtime (1981), according to the novel by E.L. Doctorow, a nice comedy, rich in characters, and situations that evokes the American at beginning of the century society. Cagney was already ill and only television tore a new interpretation (Terrible Joe Morgan, 1984).

James Cagney studied his characters with such observation skills and always gave a human touch different and appropriate to each role. He did not stop never carry huge host audience to its films, even though they almost always come to see him extort, kill, abuse women, steal and smuggle.

It would be impossible to imagine the movie gangsters of the 1930s and the productivity of the Warner Bros, in that same and splendid decade, without the invaluable work of James Cagney. He and his characters, all different but all with something of his own personality, became film classics of the Warner films. The pace, agility and vitality of interpretation that gave each of his interpretations, and each of his characters, are derived from the own James Cagney. His impulsive and overwhelming, personality conveyed to his role, always highlighted above any other it surround you in the film.


As an actor: cortometraje:1930: Intimate interview.1931: Pactice shots.1933: Hollywood on Parade.1934: Screen snapshots; A trip thru a Hollywood studio.1935: The Hollywood gad-about. 1938: For Auld Lang Syne.1943: You, John Jones.1944: Battle stations (Narrator). 1962: Road to the wall (Narrator).

Largometraje:1930: the path of crime; The holiday of the sinner. 1931: People live; The Millionaire; Women in love; Public enemy; Smart Money.1932: Taxi; Avidity of tragedy; Or all or nada.1933: footlights parade; Hard to peel; Has entered a photographer; The handsome; By evil camino.1934: is my man; Here comes the Navy; Jimmy the Gent; Hard and the cabeza.1935: heroic eagles; The heck out of the air; Sinister city; Against the Empire of crime; The favorite; A Midsummer night's dream; Rebellion on Board (cameo). 1936: the great tipo.1937: the dangers of the gloria.1938: Angels with dirty faces; Boy Meets Girl.1939: Each dawn I die; The boy from Oklahoma; The violent veinte.1940 years: City of conquest; The Fighting 69th; Torrid Zone.1941: The redhead; The Bride Came C.O.D.1942: Yankee Dandy; Masters of the nubes.1943: the tramp (and production). 1945: blood on the Sun (and production). 1947: 13 Rue Madeleine.1948: The Time or your Life (and production). 1949: the Red vivo.1950: heart of ice; West Point Story.1951: relentless poison; Starlift.1952: What price glory?.1953: A lion in the streets. 1955: Seeking your refuge; Love me or leave me; Scale in Hawaii; The Seven Little Foys (cameo). 1956: The Act of hanging; These Wilder Years. 1957: The man of a thousand faces. 1959: Lights of rebellion; Never Steal Anything Small.1960: The Gallant Hours.1961: one, two, three. 1968: Arizona Bushwhackers (storyteller). 1981: Ragtime.

How television:1955 actor: The Ed Sullivan Show.1956: "Robert Montgomery Present" (episode: Soldier from the wars returning). 1957: "Christophers" (episode: A link in the chain). 1958: Boy meets girl; "Navy Log" (episode: The lonely watch). 1966: The ballar of smokey the bear (storyteller). 1981: Cagney: that Yankee Doodle Dandy.1984 incredible: Terrible Joe Morgan

As director:1957: Short cut to Hell.

Production sequences of their films or recordings of epoca:1976: It completo Showtime.1988: Going Hollywood: The War Years.1989: Entertaining the Troops.


GUÉRIF, François. The American film noir. (Barcelona: Martínez Roca, 1988).

SKLAR, Robert. City boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).

J. C. Paredes.