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The Public Enemy

The Public Enemy (1931)


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Average Rating: N/A
Critic Reviews: 3
Fresh: 3 | Rotten: 0



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Average Rating: 3.9/5
User Ratings: 7,261

My Rating

Movie Info

William Wellman's landmark gangster movie traces the rise and fall of prohibition-era mobster Tom Powers. We are first shown various episodes of Tom's childhood with the corrupting influences of the beer hall, pool parlor, and false friends like minor-league fence Putty Nose. As young adults, Tom (James Cagney) and his pal, Matt Doyle (Edward Woods), are hired by ruthless but innately decent bootlegger Paddy Ryan (Robert Emmett O'Connor). The boys quickly rise to the top of the heap, with all

Sep 11, 2001


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All Critics (28) | Top Critics (3) | Fresh (26) | Rotten (0) | DVD (14)

There's no lace on this picture. It's raw and brutal. It's low-brow material given such workmanship as to make it high-brow.

October 30, 2007 Full Review Source: Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Cagney's energy and Wellman's gutsy direction carry the day, counteracting the moralistic sentimentality of the script and indelibly etching the star on the memory as a definitive gangster hero.

February 9, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

James Cagney's portrayal of a bootlegging runt is truly electrifying (he'd made five films, but this one made him a star), and Jean Harlow makes the tartiest tart imaginable.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

This early sound film, which made a star of James Cagney, remains one of the most influential crime-gangster films ever made, establishing the basic narrative format of the popular genre.

August 12, 2011 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com

Crime may not pay, but The Public Enemy was one of the first pictures to recognize that it sure can be exciting to watch.

July 5, 2009 Full Review Source: LarsenOnFilm

Top notch Cagney gangster flick with memorable final scene.

March 2, 2008

The film's juiciest scene has the misogynist Tom squeeze a half a grapefruit in his nagging girlfriend Kitty's (Mae Clarke) kisser.

December 15, 2007 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Still a classic of the gangster genre, showing neither glorifying the life nor pulling its punches.

October 30, 2007 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

Its success proved, if by then there was any doubt, that audiences will go for a charismatic lowlife over a dull hero any day of the week, a lesson Hollywood never forgot.

April 9, 2006 Full Review Source:

The implication is that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of guys like Tom Powers, little criminals living fast and dying hard.

February 20, 2006 Full Review
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

The film set the template for the likes of "Scarface" and "GoodFellas."

January 20, 2006 Full Review Source: Arizona Daily Star
Arizona Daily Star

Contrary to popular opinion, the best moment in the film isn't when Jimmy Cagney shoves a grapefruit in his girlfriend's face.

February 11, 2005 Full Review Source: Slant Magazine
Slant Magazine was Cagney's film from beginning to end, to win or to lose, and he came out one of the biggest winners in Hollywood.

January 30, 2005 Full Review Source: Movie Metropolis
Movie Metropolis

Overripe, rigid, and at times clunky ... and that's part of the enjoyment.

November 10, 2004 Full Review Source:

One of the essential gangster films.

July 31, 2003
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Fascinating and brutally realistic.

July 30, 2003 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

A riveting story told in 84 minutes.

May 24, 2003 Full Review Source: Film4

Now a classic, this is the movie in which Cagney famously crams a grapefruit into Mae Clarke's face.

March 10, 2003 Full Review Source: Austin Chronicle
Austin Chronicle

A stunning starring vehicle for Cagney that shaped his career. Dated and a bit slow, but Cagney magnetism shines through even then.

September 8, 2002
Journal and Courier (Lafayette, IN)

a cracklingly good vintage Cagney vehicle

July 29, 2002
Kalamazoo Gazette

Audience Reviews for The Public Enemy

James Cagney's breaking role sees him as one of the original "hoodlums", tracing his steps from young tearaway to enforcer during the prohibition years. Pretty much the template for every gangster film to come after, The Public Enemy was a groundbreaker that inevitably had its hands tied by the strict moralistic code that straight jacketed the industry at the time, which in retrospect can be seen to have been rather counterproductive. Without seeing the consequences of his violent crimes on-screen, the cocky and charismatic Cagney is actually quite an appealing character compared to his moralistic but seemingly self righteous and pompous brother. Particularly in the face of such a ridiculous law as prohibition. It has some very memorable scenes, especially the infamous "grapefruit" scene in which the lovely Mae Clarke (who is usurped by the vampish and rather dreadful Jean Harlow) is assaulted with her breakfast, and Cagney's revenge upon the rival mob. It's more of a quaint period piece by today's standards, but Cagney's cocksure performance means it still entertains to this day.
February 1, 2011
xGary Xx

Super Reviewer

Typical gangster story, predictable, but with an unexpected ending.
September 3, 2010

Super Reviewer

I am a fan of Jimmy Cagney and this one seems to be one of his very early works. Quite typical of the mob style films of it?s time, but for me not enough storyline to separate this from any other mob movie of it?s day.
February 16, 2010

Super Reviewer

this a a pretty decent flick. not as engaging or profound as many of the early gangster films were, but cagney was great as always and the movie had its bright spot. worth the watch.
March 28, 2008
danny d

Super Reviewer

    1. Tom Powers: Nuts to that stuff (breakfast)! Ain't ya got a drink in the house?
    – Submitted by rick b (2 years ago)
    1. Tom Powers: Hiding behind Ma's skirts, like always.
    2. Mike Powers: Better than hiding behind a machine gun.
    – Submitted by gerardo r (2 years ago)
    1. Matt Doyle: Gee, she's a honey. I could go for her myself.
    2. Tom Powers: Whatdya mean, you could go for her yourself? You could go for an eighty year old chick with rheumatism.
    – Submitted by gerardo r (2 years ago)
    1. Tom Powers: Hello baby. What are you gonna have?
    2. Kitty: Anything you say, big boy.
    3. Tom Powers: You're a swell dish. I think I'm going to go for you.
    – Submitted by gerardo r (2 years ago)
    1. Tom Powers: Hey, stoop, that's got gears. That ain't no Ford.
    – Submitted by gerardo r (2 years ago)
    1. Tom Powers: Why that dirty, no good, yellow-bellied stool. I'm gonna give it to him right in the head the first time I see him.
    – Submitted by gerardo r (2 years ago)
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