Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Public Enemy

Just finished my first James Cagney flick at lunch. Also my first 30s gangster flick.

I was surprised that it had such a dark tone. The violence is actually quite strong even by today's standards, though not much of it is shown. The execution of Putty Nose, in particular, is jarring. While not as hit-heavy as modern gangster epics, Tom is no slouch. (He even executes the horse responsible for a friend's death.) His final act of violence, exacting revenge for a hit that kills his life-long friend, is particularly powerful visually. Wielding two .38s, he charges into a building full of enemy mobsters to take down the boss. The audience is left guessing out in the rain, with only the sounds of gunfire to inform us of the action taking place inside. Seconds later, Tom stumbles out, severly wounded, and stumbles through the rain into the gutter. It's good heavy rain, the kind Kurosawa loved to use (Rashomon and Seven Samurai come to mind). Sam Mendes used it well in Road to Perdition also.

I'm still trying to figure out what purposes rain is used for in movies. In Public Enemy, it is used to isolate the main character, to frame him, to reveal the truth about his character. "I ain't so tough." He is truly alone for the first time in his life, and he realizes what he really is. In Rashomon, again, truth is revealed. It is a longer process, as the different stories are told, but ultimately the truth is outted and Takashi Shimura's farmer finds redemption and solace in new and untainted life, that of the child. In Seven Samurai, Kikuchiro redeems himself and proves to be made of samurai stuff after all. All in heavy, pounding, flooding rain. Rain that washes away pretense? Sin even? Seems so.


Jonathan said...

Not that this is a classic, but in Man on Fire I remember the rain being a pretty explicit baptism for John Creasy, given the heavy Christian symbolism throughout the movie.

Baptism would have many connotations like cleansing (in common with rain as you said), but also annointing maybe, and obviously rebirth or second-birth, as when Neo is "born" out of his Matrix pod and winched into the Nebuchadnezer with a giant forceps(simultaneous first and second birth, and baptism in terms of his Christ journey).

Ryan said...

Hm, good call on Neo's birth. Does it really count as his first birth, though? Second and baptism are plain to see, but first birth (symbolically) seems like it would belong to his birth in the matrix itself. Then, once he accepts the truth, he receives his second birth that takes him out of the cave (though, ironically, back into it physically).

Jonathan said...

His birth in the matrix is his first mental and spiritual birth, but his second birth spiritually (and baptism) is ironically his first physical birth.

I mean, he was in a giant uterus, his mechanical umbilical cords popped off, and he had to wipe endometrial fluid from his eyes!