22 November 2009 | AlsExGal
Lew Ayres works as the lead in this film...
... even though many people complain that the role should have gone to Cagney. Ayres' baby-faced good looks and polished exterior were supposed to clash with the reality of the gangster that he was - that is part of the whole point of the film.
Ayres plays Louie Ricarno, a gangster who has decided to take the warring gangs of the city and run them like departments of a corporation of which he, of course, is president. In spite of some beefing by the other gangsters at first, in the long run this ends the in-fighting and all the gangsters make more money in the bootleg booze business and like the arrangement. Ricarno makes more money than any of them and this enables him to marry his dream-girl, retire, and live the life of a gentleman in Florida. At something like the tender age of 25 he is even writing his memoirs. However, he has two problems. First, you can take the girl out of the speak-easy (his wife) but you can't take the speak-easy out of the girl. Secondly, once Louie is retired, the same old in-fighting starts up again among the gangsters he left behind and they yearn for Louie to return and restore order. When he refuses, a couple of the gangsters cook up a plan to force him to return that goes horribly wrong and ends up killing someone close to Louie. Full of vengeance, Louie does return home, but not to restore order.
Cagney here has a minor role as right hand man to Louie and one-time boyfriend of Louie's now bored wife Doris. He's perfect in the role since his openly wise-guy exterior is in sharp contrast to Ayres' gee-whiz personna, in spite of the fact that they are equally violent.
Louie is a sympathetic character in many ways. He isn't someone who just picked crime as a career. Instead he grew up in poverty, lost his parents at a young age, lost two siblings to typhoid from bad milk, and just doesn't know any other way to live than dog eat dog. This doesn't excuse what he does, but it is something of an explanation. In this sense this film is ahead of its time in complexity. Also interesting is Louie's almost-friendship with Captain Pat O'Grady, the cop that is determined to get Louie and his gang off the street once and for all.