the public enemy 1931

Then you have the infamously insane director Cecil B. DeMille (not his only appearance on the list, by the way), who had blanks available to him but thought live ammunition looked more realistic. For the 1915 film The Captive, he wanted a scene wherein some soldiers shoot their way through a door with real bullets, because it would look cool as hell. Then for the next scene, they were to rush inside and continue the shootout with blanks. Want to guess what happened?

Yep, somebody forgot to swap out the real bullets and an actor got fucking killed.

In the decades to come, “squibs” to simulate bullet strikes were around but still expensive, and action movies began to run ads boasting that they’d used real bullets, the same way Tom Cruise movies now go on and on about how he does his own stunts. The studios would hire marksmen, and they’d have to carefully plan shots so that actors weren’t at risk even from a ricochet.

In William Wellman’s 1931 gangster film The Public Enemy, James Cagney (and everyone else on set) swears they shot up this corner a split second after he ducked around it …even though it seems like they could have easily created the effect with a clever edit. 

A few years later, Cagney was nearly shot on the set of the movie Taxi! and declared he wouldn’t work with live ammo ever again (he later helped found the Screen Actors Guild, which among other things cemented actors’ rights to not be literally fucking shot at during productions).

6 Terrifying Ways Films Used To Achieve Special Effects

The Bechdel Test is a popular and very simple test to judge movies on their level of representation. For a movie to pass: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. 

If you ever want to check if a film passes the test, check here. For now, under the cut are the links to movies made before 1970 that do pass. (more masterposts)

Keep reading


It was 80 years ago: Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed and killed by law officers in Louisiana, May 23, 1934.

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde Chestnut Barrow were American outlaws and robbers from the Dallas area who traveled the central United States with their gang during the Great Depression. Their exploits captured the attention of the American public during the “public enemy era” between 1931 and 1934. Though known today for his dozen-or-so bank robberies, Barrow preferred to rob small stores or rural gas stations. The gang is believed to have killed at least nine police officers and several civilians. Their reputation was revived and cemented in American pop folklore by Arthur Penn’s 1967 film Bonnie & Clyde, which starred Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty as the pair.

Even during their lifetimes, the couple’s depiction in the press was at considerable odds with the hardscrabble reality of their life on the road—particularly in the case of Bonny. Though she was present at a hundred or more felonies during her two years as Barrow’s companion, she was not the machine gun-wielding killer portrayed in the newspapers, newsreels, and pulp detective magazines of the day. x


My favorite James Cagney roles:

George M. Cohan  in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942)

Tom Powers in “The Public Enemy” (1931)

Captain Morton in “Mister Roberts” (1955)

Rocky Sullivan in “Angels With Dirty Faces” (1938)

C.R. MacNamara in “One, Two, Three” (1961)

It was tough picking just five. It would have been easy to pick ten or fifteen.


Movie Genre: Gangster

The gangster movie came into being as a distinct genre in Prohibition America of the 1920S, when alcohol was banned and racketeers flourished. The crime films of the late 1920s and 1930s were updated to dramatic effect in the mob movies of the 1970s and 1990s. There were complaints that these films endowed gangsters with a certain kind of a glamor. Gangster films were, however, Hollywood most profitable movies. 

What to watch:

  1. Little Caesar (Mervyn Leroy, 1931)
  2. Public Enemy (William Wellman, 1931)
  3. Angels With Dirty Faces (Michael Curtiz, 1938)
  4. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
  5. Scarface (Brian De Palma, 1983)
  6. Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984)
  7. GoodFellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
  8. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
  9. Snatch (Guy Ritchie, 2000)
  10. Road to Perdition (Sam Mendes, 2002)
    (Bergan, R. 2011. The Film Book: A Complete Guide To The World Of Cinema.)

Several versions exist of the origin of the notorious grapefruit scene, but the most plausible is the one on which both James Cagney and Mae Clarke agree: The scene, they explained, was actually staged as a practical joke at the expense of the film crew, just to see their stunned reactions. There was never any intention of ever using the shot in the completed film. Director William A. Wellman, however, eventually decided to keep the shot, and use it in the film’s final release print.