26 April 2002 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Cagney's dynamic debut
In 1929, James Cagney and Joan Blondell (neither of them well-known at the time) played supporting roles in a Broadway drama called "Penny Arcade". Warner Brothers bought the film rights and brought Cagney and Blondell to Hollywood to repeat their stage roles in the screen version, retitled "Sinner's Holiday". This was the first movie for both of them. (Blondell's second film, a quickie, was released before "Sinner's Holiday", a more prestigious picture.) The actual star of this film is Grant Withers, playing a gangster who's made a lot of enemies and needs a place to hide before he gets rubbed out. Withers is pretty good, and he deserves to be better known. Cagney's role is much smaller, but he's absolutely electrifying. As soon as he steps on screen, there's no question that he's the best actor in this movie ... one of the best actors in the history of films, in fact.
Joan Blondell is boring in this film, as usual. Her appeal has always eluded me. At least in her other films she usually had something to do; here, she doesn't. There are good performances by Lucille LaVerne and Warren Hymer, in his usual typecast role as a dim gangster. Hank Mann, who was one of the original Keystone Cops (and who eventually outlived all the other Keystone Cops), is excellent here in a small role.
"Sinner's Holiday" suffers from the usual Warner Brothers complaint: low budget-itis. I saw the trailer for this film before I saw the movie itself. The trailer features a shot of amusement park rides in a funfair. This is obviously stock footage, but at least I expected the stock shot to turn up in the movie itself. Surprisingly, it doesn't. There's almost nothing on screen to convince you that this movie takes place in an amusement park. It looks like a stage play recorded on film, rather than a movie in its own right. Still, "Sinner's Holiday" has much to recommend it, and Cagney's performance alone is worth your time. I'll rate this movie 6 out of 10 points, or 7 if you're a Cagney fan. If you're a Joan Blondell fan, I don't want to know about it.