I watched a film I'd not watched in over 30 years last night, "He Was Her Man" (1934), with James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Victor Jory, Frank Craven, Sarah Padden, Harold Huber, Russell Hopton, Ralf Harolde, John Qualen, and Bradley Page. Let's begin by saying that James Cagney with a mustache is like James Cagney playing against Bogey in the western "The Oklahoma Kid" where he wears a hat that looks exactly like a giant mushroom. Cagney wasn't born to play in Westerns, and his mien looks overdressed and prettified in a 'stache. Nevertheless, the film is a pleasant surprise, exceptionally well done, especially since Warner Brothers was obviously trying to play the film down against the new rules of the coming Breen Code. The Code was put in place on the 13th of June 1934; the film was released on the 16th of June 1934; though the rules of the Code itself weren't put into effect until 1 July 1934. The film could have been a wowzer; instead it plays a game that's 2+2=4. Normally, films play the game where 2+2=5, or more, because that's the way films are played in Hollywood. Things occur the way we'd like them to, rather than the way things normally go. When a film's bad 2+2=0 or 1 or just doesn't add up, but that's another story altogether.
Cagney's an ex-safe-cracker in this one. He evidently got framed last time he pulled a job, and two of his cohorts turned him in and he served a three year sentence he shouldn't have served, or served alone anyway. Now, he turns the tables and gets his ex-cohorts by having the cops turn up while a job is being pulled. One of the men kills a cop and is burned for it. The ex-cohorts go after Cagney. Cagney decides to disappear to a tiny little town somewhere near Monterey, California where Portuguese fishermen live and make their living out of the Pacific. Meanwhile, he's met Blondell, an ex-hooker who's now engaged to be married to Victor Jory, one of the fishermen. She's falling for Cagney, and Cagney - well, yes, he probably for her, too. It's rather sloppy, isn't it. The acting, meanwhile, is very underplayed, but an undercurrent is there that keeps the tone right on target. The acting is spot on. I won't divulge the rest of the plot, but must state that the film is very, very bittersweet. It ends with 2+2=4 - as I said earlier. Something most films don't do. In my opinion, both Blondell and Cagney are at the top of their games in the acting department; it's the script that isn't quite there for this to be a formidable remembrance in their repertoires. Victor Jory must be commended for his performance, though, even above those other two. He's wonderful. It's just that, well, Cagney's body language is so full of energy, no matter what, that he doesn't steal a scene from anybody, he gallops through it, even when he's restraining himself.
New from Warner Archive Collection. Well worth the watch. Be advised: it isn't the normal Cagney crash, bang, boom; it isn't the normal Blondell with snappy lines delivered back against some crack line delivered before. The Pre-Codeness isn't really here; it's calm, but it's real, and it's good.
Last edited by R Michael Pyle
on Sun Oct 14, 2018 2:48 pm, edited 2 times in total.