Public Enemy Film (Wellman, 1931)

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Analysis of the Film "The Public Enemy"

Language, Technology, and Aesthetic Appeal

Early in 1931, the novel Beer and Blood served as the inspiration for the movie. Three things served as the foundation for its development: language, technology, and aesthetic appeal.

The film's language development was crucial since it showed how the gangster convention was referring to the oral aspect. The feature was intended to enhance linguistic and intellectual expression among the populace back when technological literacy was less widespread. Cagney is seen tending to show his teeth while speaking to suggest that his voice should be viewed more broadly than just on the oral film oral system. However, he never used slangs and ethnic accents like other actors did. Another scene is when Matt is killed and Tom's vocal powers diminish as seen when apologizing to his mother in the hospital. At the film closing, Tom's silencing seems to strangely relate to the stopping of a record playing a period song, "I'm forever blowing bubbles" which appeared in the early scenes signaling his gang career.

Technology as used in the early sound films was incredible and unique. In the public enemy film, sounds were breath-taking, quiet and had a perfect creation making the film peaceful and appear intelligible. It adopted the composite of art exhibits where tableau model was used for the silent film narrative. The public enemy film combined well the silent story with the sound doctrines into the realm of conscience artistic. The technology is gradually being understood and will help in advancing the future film field if used sparingly and carefully by employing sound like a tool rather than an agent of complacency. The aesthetic characteristic was well developed in the film where we have the backward shot of Cagney as he approaches the camera for a close-up with a sinister grin on the face and seems like the camera is trying to escape him. Later, the roles are interchanged as the camera is put at a lower angle waiting for Cagney to put the face into the gutter which is a foreshadowing of final film shot.The declaration made at the launching of the narrative was that "the intention of the authors of the public enemy to honestly depict an environment that exists today in certain strata of American life, rather than glorify the hoodlum or the criminal." However, they should have considered the complexity of cultural position occupied by the representatives of Hollywood criminality in the early days. In-depth, there was a difference in culture as seen in the film during the old days of film production and present. Nevertheless, the aim of the film was achieved by the harsh and violent act to grab the audience attention.

How the Film Conforms to its Genre

The public enemy film stuck to its genres as an interest of the ability to guarantee the audience of its continuation and stability. It brought about the cinema allegiance which established a dominant period of myths and culture. It also had its reputation for developing the studio known for genres through a smash on a girl with a grapefruit which saw Cagney as a star of the gangs. However, due to the severity of objections to the gangster's films, there may develop some inconsistency in the perspective that had been conceived. It is interesting how the film is considered a classic because of standing out instead of being incorporated in other gangster film production produced during that time. It stands out because of being clear, therefore represented a break with conventional modes of showing the other half of the screen which was different from what was produced before it.

Race, Gender, and Social Relations in the Film

The film has both genders where women are portrayed negatively as sex objects. The aspect is seen when Cagney goes to work for the new boss Nails Nathan and runs to a whole string of women ranging from the nightclub, blonde bombshell to Matt's girlfriend. His partying with the girls stops when Nathan is killed in a horse accident making their gang weaker to the rival's gang. It also depicted inferiority in women when Mae Clarke, the nightclub girl, told Cagney, "maybe you found someone else you like better," then when at the breakfast table, Cagney picked up a grapefruit and smashed it right into the face of Mae. That act brings out the aspect of being hilarious, brutal, and shocking which made Cagney move from unknown to a gang star while the woman felt inferior.

The social class relation is portrayed in the sense that Mike, who is Tom's brother, is well behaved as he works and goes to school while Tom is in a gang. The well-behaved brother now seems to be poor while Tom, who is not well behaved, is a hero thus associates with high profile people since he has money. Mike despises his brother's living style and convinces the mother not to take any money from Tom as it is blood money. Tom's life changes as he is absorbed in the social and sexual motives as he displays his affluence, clothes, and cars to the women and even trades for more luxurious models.

The dynamics of race, gender, and relations were considered to bring out the character of Tom, the gangster, in a transparent way by making Tom stand out in the events involved therein. Time of film production reflects a silent period which was gradually folding, and they managed to come up with a new studio system which was commonly known for the genre. The studios used to break down productions into series of classes of writers, editors, and directors. Therefore, they carried out the process for their product coming up with a genre to appeal to their audience. The social implication of the kind of portrayal was to establish a dominant culture and myth for the audience future guarantee of continuity and stability.

The Revelation of the Film About the Period of Production

The decade of the public enemy film production was rich in culture where ethnic accent in casting and performance, slangs, and quiet sound were applied. The silent film embraced distinct narrative systems which the present sound era does not embrace anymore. Shapes dance along the walls of bricks in the city assumes the character of ghosts which was a common myth in the time of history making the film illuminated and magnificent. The culture desires of the season are mysterious due to the film experimental state, breathtaking, quietness, and having perfect creation which brings out the uniqueness and credibility where every noise has a point at which it originates. The fears are that the interesting techniques employed in theearly days may be abandoned in the future by the filmmakers resulting in a dilute culture.

The film's deeper meaning was to better the environment and education for the masses to overcome the tendency of law-breaking through instilling a moral that would provide protection. The aim was not to produce a sociological treatise but a tough, rough, and the best gangster film ever to bring out the real picture of gang activity for life lessons to the youth so that they understand well the consequences of ill-mannered kind of behavior. While the religious organization complained of the movie is romantic and glamorous, the industry said that the film was no incentive to the criminal acts bringing the gangsters through the ridicule weapon and the false heroism that may have led to influencing the youth. The use of ethnic stereotyping in the casting and perfuming was also said to be of adverse influence on young people. Tom changes his style of living and accustomed to Terry Druggan's gang and now visits even the nightclubs since the budget could allow though he remains a boy throughout the film. The boy like act is depicted in the way of his relating to the girls in the nightclub. He uses them as a form of property, which shows well the display of the new affluence acquired after his changed lifestyle. The lavish style ends in tears which should be a lesson to the mass that they should learn to work for straight-way money but not blood money.


Crouch, Stanley. "Public Enemy." Film Comment 48, no. 5 (2012): 40-41. 

Datto, Kiku. "Mythic Pictures and Movie Heroes." In Picture Perfect: Life in the Age of the

Photo Op (New Edition) 187-242. Princeton; Oxford: PrincetoN University Press, 2008: 187-242.

Gibbs, John. "Movie: Aims and Contexts." In The Life of Mise-en-scène: Visual Style and BritishFilm Criticism 1946–78, 126-160. Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press, 2013: 1946–78, 126-160

Schwartz, Lloyd. "Movie Tunes."Salmagundi, no. 148/149 (2005): 211-22.

April 06, 2023
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Novel Film Analysis Literacy

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