Picture Snatcher Reviews
Especially James Cagney...the delivery of his lines in that quick, inimitable New York accent of his simply propels this film. It's amazing how much energy he lends his character. There is just no way that some of the stuff he does here was scripted - whether giving an actress a playful bite on the cheek during a kissing scene or the way he talks lovey-dovey to his girlfriend over the phone. PICTURE SNATCHER is by no means one of Cagney's best or well-remembered films - but watching this you have no doubt of his quality as one of classic Hollywood's best.
*SOME POSSIBLE SPOILERS*
Cagney plays hoodlum Danny Kean - just released from prison after serving a three-year term. His boss, Jerry "The Mug" (Ralf Harolde) is eager to have Danny back into the gang... but Danny wants no part of it. Danny vows he's going "legitimate" - taking up an offer to become a reporter for a daily newspaper. The other boys in the gang laugh at the prospect but there is no doubting his sincerity - a scowl from Danny's face stops their laughter.
Newspaper editor Al McLean (Ralph Bellamy) has his doubts too. "I only want to show you and myself and the rest of the world that I can be something besides a gorilla" - Danny explains to McLean. When Danny uses a bit of inventiveness to literally "take" a photo of a suicidal fireman does McLean take notice and hire Danny as a cub photographer.
It doesn't take long for Danny's value as a reporter to rise. His street-savvy ways - "I know every mug and cop in this town..." - is a big advantage over the other rival reporters. He wrangles his way into viewing and secretly snapping a photo of an execution (of a female murderer) despite not having the proper reporter's credentials. An extended chase ensues when the guards and the other reporters realize Danny has taken a prohibited photo and try to prevent him from getting back to his newspaper. The owner of the newspaper is elated, of course - and wants to publish the "death photo" and demands the full story from Danny.
In what is probably the film's best comic moment - with editor McLean eagerly looking on, Danny - in his best New York accent - dictates the story of the execution to a female reporter, Allison (Alice White) who types it all up on a typewriter:
"...this is the way it wuz. They hustle us mugs into the death house and I muscle my way right down front where I get a good shot of the whole works...am I talking too fast? There it was right under my nose - the hot seat. Everything was quiet when in walk two of the screws... and in chains, the dame which they wuz going to take out for the murder. They plop her into the chair, put a hood over her head and strap her in. One guy gives 'er the office, another guy throws in the works and the dame fries....it was all over".
"wait a minute...lets see what we got" says McLean as he grabs the sheet from the typewriter and reads aloud Allison's dictation:
"The witnesses were ushered into the awful stillness of the death chamber. All eyes focused on the chair - that death dealing device in which the state enacts the supreme penalty. Suddenly the sounds of footsteps is heard...everything is tense...they grow closer. The door is opened and there on the threshold stood a woman, a wife...a mother who was to pay with her life for a crime unparalleled in the annals of criminal history. The murder of her lover - the father of her child. Great stuff, Danny!!!"
"...eh. I always knew I could write. All I needed wuz the chance", says Danny nonplussed.
Allison (Alice White) does not get a grapefruit shoved into her face by Cagney but as the amorous reporter who has the hots for Danny - she does endure the wrath of Cagney's tough-guy screen persona. In one scene, the sexually aggressive Allison is slapped unconscious by Danny tired of Allison's unwanted advances. He dumps her unceremoniously from the front seat to the back seat of a car. It's all to comic relief really but the point is made that one doesn't mess with Cagney's persona - be they men or women. Danny rebuffs Allison because she happens to be McLean's girlfriend. "I don't two-time pals..." he tells Allison angrily.
Danny ignores Allison because he has his eyes set on a pretty journalism student - Patricia Nolan (Patricia Ellis). Complications further arise - Patricia happens to be the daughter of policeman, Lt. Casey Nolan (Robert Emmett O'Connor) - the cop who originally arrested Danny and put him in jail. Surprised and shocked to see his daughter with the hoodlum -Nolan chases Danny away and takes a pot shot at him with his service pistol. "I'm gonna kill that dirty rat..."
Imagine that...someone actually calling Cagney a "dirty rat".