The Public Enemy
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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 the accoutrements of success: custom-tailored tuxedoes, fancy cars, and gorgeous girls.… More

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Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

Critic Reviews from Rotten Tomatoes

"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."
‑ Variety Staff, Variety
"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."
‑ Emanuel Levy, EmanuelLevy.Com
"The film's juiciest scene has the misogynist Tom squeeze a half a grapefruit in his nagging girlfriend Kitty's (Mae Clarke) kisser."
‑ Dennis Schwartz, Ozus' World Movie Reviews
"The implication is that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of guys like Tom Powers, little criminals living fast and dying hard."
‑ Philip Martin, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
" was Cagney's film from beginning to end, to win or to lose, and he came out one of the biggest winners in Hollywood."
‑ John J. Puccio, Movie Metropolis
"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."
‑ Geoff Andrew, Time Out
"Crime may not pay, but The Public Enemy was one of the first pictures to recognize that it sure can be exciting to watch."
‑ Josh Larsen, LarsenOnFilm
"Still a classic of the gangster genre, showing neither glorifying the life nor pulling its punches."
‑ Jake Hamilton, Empire Magazine
"The film set the template for the likes of "Scarface" and "GoodFellas.""
‑ Phil Villarreal, Arizona Daily Star
"Overripe, rigid, and at times clunky ... and that's part of the enjoyment."
‑ Jay Antani,
"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."
‑ Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader
"Top notch Cagney gangster flick with memorable final scene."
‑ Steve Crum,
"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."
‑ Mark Bourne,
"Contrary to popular opinion, the best moment in the film isn't when Jimmy Cagney shoves a grapefruit in his girlfriend's face."
‑ Chris Barsanti, Slant Magazine
"One of the essential gangster films."
‑ Ken Hanke, Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)
More reviews for The Public Enemy on Rotten Tomatoes