Featured Star: James Cagney
As George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

The explosive, in-your-face screen presence coupled with the ability to convey depth of sensitivity behind a street-hardened exterior have made this bartender's son from the Lower East Side one of the most enduring and most iconoclastic of Hollywood leading men. Having abandoned his studies at Columbia to help support his family after his father's death, the 19-year-old Cagney auditioned for and won the role of a female impersonator in a vaudeville revue. For the next decade, Jimmy would hone his acting and dancing skills on the boards and by the late '20s had obtained his first breaks on Broadway.

In 1929, he assayed the role of a cheap grifter in the short-lived play "Penny Arcade"; Al Jolson sold the property to Warner Bros. under the proviso that Cagney and Joan Blondell reprise their roles onscreen, and both made their film debut in the retitled "Sinner's Holiday." After getting an additional pair of supporting performances under his belt, Cagney received his breakout opportunity when William Wellman lobbied to give him the lead in "The Public Enemy." Warners would ride him hard over the next half-decade, with tough-guy vehicles representing the bulk of his output; he occasionally got to show off his hoofing ability ("Footlight Parade") and engage in war heroics "Ceiling Zero," "Devil Dogs Of The Air").

Seeking more diverse opportunities, Cagney bolted Warners to engage in independent production; the indifferent public response to "Great Guy" and "Something To Sing About" brought him back to the WB lot by the late '30s. Upon his return, the studio seemed willing to show off his range, with a run marked by "Angels With Dirty Faces," "The Oklahoma Kid," "City For Conquest," "The Strawberry Blonde," and "The Bride Came C.O.D.," and capped by his Oscar-winning work as George M. Cohan in "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

Cagney curtailed his output over the balance of the '40s, a period most noted for "Blood On The Sun," "13 Rue Madeleine" and "White Heat." He remained active through the '50s, with highlights being "Love Me Or Leave Me," "Mister Roberts," "Man Of A Thousand Faces" and "Never Steal Anything Small." After the completion of 1961's "One, Two, Three," Cagney vowed retirement from filmmaking, and he hewed to that promise for 20 years until the lure of a supporting turn in "Ragtime." With his health in serious decline, Cagney made his final bow with the title role in the 1984 telefilm "Terrible Joe Moran."

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