The James Cagney Energy Boost
Although he became famous in films as a tough guy, James Cagney liked to think of himself as a song-and-dance man, and that’s the tack we take in our newest Grand Old Movies post on his 1933 musical, Footlight Parade. Cagney sings and dances in this film, but even between the music numbers he keeps the momentum going. In one scene he takes a phone call and, although he’s sitting down, he keeps stomping one foot in rhythm to the music; he literally can’t stop moving. His body is an instrument that won’t shut down. Whatever is going on in him, as actor and artist, is grounded in this instrument and finds kinetic expression there. It’s what make Cagney so memorably vivid onscreen. He brought a dancer’s energy to all aspects of his performing, even to his gangster characters, but it particularly comes to the fore in his musical roles. Especially in a pre-Code, Busby-Berkeley-choreographed musical like Footlight Parade, which combines a gritty, Depression-toughened vitality with a tongue-in-cheek naughtiness that even today leaves audiences giddy with delight. They really don’t make ‘em like this anymore.
Our post is part of the Cagney Blogathon, being hosted by The Movie Projector Blog from April 8-12, 2013. Please click here to read our post and for links to the blogathon page with a list of participating bloggers writing on Cagney’s films.