James Cagney's electrifying screen personality, coupled with a Depression-riddled America ready to cheer the kind of anti-heroes he played, catapulted the pugnacious, fast-talking Irishman into a legendary stature that far surpassed his 30 years of movie making. It also made him one of the most imitated actors in history.
While he was nominated for Academy Awards for his performances as Rocky Sullivan in "Angels With Dirty Faces" (1938) and as Martin (The Gimp) Snyder in "Love Me or Leave Me" (1955), it was his dazzling portrait of song-and-dance man George M. Cohan in "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1942) that won Cagney his only Oscar.
The lavish film, based on the life of the famous vaudeville hoofer, dramatist, actor, songwriter and flag-waver, remained Cagney's personal favorite from his long and varied career.
Another memorable performance was as the palm-tree-crazy ship captain in "Mister Roberts" in 1955, whose emotional imbalance and paranoid pettiness was blended with just the right amount of comic undercurrent to become the perfect foil for Jack Lemmon's hilarious, Oscar-winning romp as Ensign Frank Pulver.
His performance in 1931's "The Public Enemy" as Tom Powers, a hoodlum who had grown up in pre-World War I slums with no regard for law and order, shocked moviegoers, especially women in the audience who didn't appreciate Cagney's penchant for mauling (via grapefruit smashes or otherwise) his female film companions.
Former Screen Actors Guild President Charlton Heston called Cagney "an absolutely unique performer" because of the "riveting energy which was evident in every performance he gave."
Points of interest
|1938||Best Actor||Angels With Dirty Faces||Nomination|
|1942||Best Actor||Yankee Doodle Dandy||Win|
|1955||Best Actor||Love Me or Leave Me||Nomination|