12 November 2007 | blanche-2
The power and the curse of dreams
James Cagney, Arthur Kennedy and Ann Sheridan all live in the "City for Conquest" - New York, that is - in this 1940 film directed by Anatole Litvak and also starring Frank McHugh, Donald Crisp, Anthony Quinn and - yes, Elia Kazan.
Cagney and Kennedy are the Kenny Brothers, Danny and Eddie. Danny is a truck driver in love with Peg, his childhood sweetheart. He has two dreams - Peg and his brother's composing career. When he's discovered by a fight manager (Crisp), Danny becomes a fighter for the money. The ambitious Peg has her eyes on fame and fortune and pairs up with a brutish but equally ambitious dancer, played with force by Anthony Quinn. Eddie, meanwhile, is discovered not for his magnificent composition "City for Conquest" but for his Broadway musical capabilities.
When he realizes he's losing Peg, Danny, who is being brought up gradually into the bigger fights, demands to go for a big purse that will give him the championship - and, he thinks, Peg. Thanks to a crooked mobster, the fight nearly destroys Danny and he has to give up fighting. Down but not out, he insists that Eddie still pursue his dream of a classical career.
This is a good movie that tugs at the heartstrings, very melodramatic, with excellent acting all around. Cagney is wonderful and sympathetic as a simple, loving man who takes what life gives him; Crisp gives a fine performance as his caring fight manager. Ann Sheridan, always an earthier, tougher version of Rita Hayworth, is marvelous as a young woman who, though she loves Danny, can't fight the lure of the glamor and fame offered by her dance partnership. Kazan, in a small role as a gangster, is great, though his contributions as a director are far more valuable than what he might have given film history as an actor.
The standout for me was one of the most brilliant and underrated actors of our time, Arthur Kennedy. Kennedy enjoyed a wonderful career in film and on stage in a variety of roles, but because he wasn't a true leading man and not a Warners "tough guy" like Cagney, Robinson, or Bogart who could graduate into lead roles, he toiled as a supporting actor, earning no less than 5 Oscar nominations. Here he is young and good-looking, and his performance is passionate without being maudlin. Surely there wasn't a dry eye in any movie house after the speech he gives about his brother the night his symphony (very much modeled on "Rhapsody in Blue") debuts. Truly a great treasure, and he was discovered by James Cagney, who knew talent when he saw it.
A heartfelt movie, and you'll need that box of tissues nearby. See it and celebrate the good old days of the rough streets of New York and movies about the common man and dreams coming true.