With 27 user reviews up at the time of this writing about "Jimmy the Gent" (1934), the board doesn't necessarily need one more. However, I thought I would just relate a few thoughts about how I have come to enjoy the performance of James Cagney in this film. JC had come to be my favorite actor in the movies from when I was around eight years of age. Of course, back in the day, movies that appeared on TV were quite old to begin with. Just think, a movie seen in 1960 that had been produced in 1930, for example, was only 30 years old... but what a world of difference in filmmaking those 30 years made! (By the way, Cagney was just about to famously retire the next year, in 1961). Because in 1960 movies from the 1930's and 1940's was the norm for broadcast on TV, kids pretty much had no choice but to come to know and hopefully enjoy films from the golden age of Hollywood. Today, by contrast, a movie made in 1931 was made nearly 90 years ago!
Anyway, I loved James Cagney as a child and actually catalogued his films from what information about them was provided with announced showings in TV Guide magazine. After all, there were no easily seeable lists to be found. I remember the libraries' encyclopedia had incomplete information. So I compiled notecards with TV Guide info on around 50 actors and tried to develop filmographies on them. I kept at it until I was somewhere in high school, in the late 1960's. Then things changed for me in my endeavors, as I discovered Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood and all the great resources there, and then Steven Scheuer and Leonard Maltin began to widely issue their film ratings compendia, etc.
I had seen so many of Cagney's films as I entered by teen years and had long been fascinated by his moving and his appearance. Although I didn't appreciate his mustachioed films very much, I really hated his look in "Jimmy the Gent." The closely-shaven sides of his head really bothered me, as did the seemingly less luxurious waves of hair that normally abounded in his beautiful head of hair. And besides that, I didn't find the levity in the characters' comedic banter delivered very palatable, either. Obviously and unfortunately, I was too young to appreciate the writing and delivery of those lines. Beyond that, I didn't like Bette Davis' look and behavior, either! She just didn't look like herself and didn't speak like herself, at least from the point of view of a pre-teen who had seen so many of her films, too, all of them from later than 1934.
But then I happened to view "Gent" again about twenty-five years later, and I enjoyed it far more. Maturity had allowed me to evolve so that I understood the film and could appreciate JC's and Davis' performances. I detected moves (leaps, twists, and bounding) by Cagney's body that had not yet appeared in his previous three years of film but which did appear in later films, including "Yankee Doodle Dandy," for example.
Well, funny thing is, now I have seen it yet again, 35 years after the second viewing, and I have found "Gent" to be very worthy of appreciation and much admiration, especially the work that JC did in it. Someone said that the film falls short of Michael Curtiz' later work, including "Casablanca" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy," but "Jimmy the Gent" wasn't meant to be anything more than a fun 66-minute seat-filler, anyway.
Although I found Cagney's haircut to be unfortunate as a child, I have heard now how JC took this haircut to perturb the higher-ups in WB (especially Hal B. Wallis) to get back at them for putting JC in this film. But in actuality, I kind of think the haircut suited JC for the role he played here, the role of a conniving and manipulating snake oil salesman, and two-parts bully, to boot, who would do whatever he could, within the bounds of the limited worldliness he possessed, to propel his business forward and get the girl he wanted so badly. Remember, JC knew how to use his body for maximum benefit as an actor... and the controlled use of his body is on full display in this one!
One other thing I noticed, too, is that Cagney looked thick, somewhat squat, and boxy much of the time. Could this look be by design, as well? I think he actually held his body, clothed his body, and moved his body intentionally in "Jimmy the Gent" in ways to differentiate his persona in this film from those in his previous films. In summation, the film is fast, fun, funny, and full of delicious dialog, and James Cagney delivers yet another great character for us to enjoy!