For a three time Indy race champion, Jimmy Cagney's character Joe Greer isn't as flamboyant as some of the ones he portrayed in the handful of films prior to this one. There's the spark of "The Public Enemy" Tom Powers here when he manhandles Joan Blondell, and slaps around kid brother Eddie (Eric Linden). But the story is somewhat uneven with abrupt scene changes and much left to the imagination of the viewer to piece together the motivations of the lead players. Director Howard Hawks peppers the film with cameos of the leading race car drivers of the day, and for movie goers of the era, that was probably a cool feature, but for me, names like Billy Arnold, and Fred Frame don't carry any recognition. The highlight of the movie would probably be the race sequences, and they made me wonder why anyone would take up the profession with enough dust swirling around to blacken the features and choke every driver. I guess you had to love it.
As a nostalgic period piece, the movie serves well to evoke memories of the California race tracks mentioned and shown in the story. Even back in the Thirties, it wouldn't be hard to imagine that the race announcer's statement about '100 death defying laps' was anything but accurate, probably even more so than today with all the safety features built into the cars and race track itself. You have to admit, there wasn't much between the drivers and their primitive looking machines to provide escape from serious injury or death. Which made it too bad for Cagney movie regular Frank McHugh, who had to pay the price for getting between Joe Greer (Cagney) and brother Eddie in one of the movie's defining races.
I think another reviewer on this board had it right about the film's closing scene in which Cagney prods his ambulance driver to out race a competitor to the hospital. The need for speed can lead to all sorts of reckless behavior, and I wasn't so sure that the movie was finding fault with that as much as glorifying it for the thrill of the audience.
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