James Cagney plays a playwright and theater manager in a time when talkies are all the rage and people don’t want to go to the theater anymore. He keeps going though by making “prologues” a series of short plays to precede movies performed right in the movie theater. For the first half of the film he produces one about cats (which is kind of similar to the play Cats oddly enough) and we get to watch the finished product, then in the second half of the film he gets the idea to take all unproduced musical comedies and shorten them to 40 minutes for his prologues and runs with it.
It’s a fun, fast-paced musical comedy, and the first movie to star James Cagney as something that wasn’t a mobster. That’s probably not entirely true but as a star of vaudeville before his transition onto the big screen, it was cool to see him in a role that was similar to what made him famous to begin with. It was also made in the Pre-Code era when women were allowed to be sexy and people could swear at and murder each other. Rather than the Code era when everyone in America had to pretend that no one had sex or swore ever for any reason, also that everyone believed in Jesus and no one was black. Okay, I don’t think that’s right either, who’s writing this stuff?
I really like James Cagney in this movie. I like his fast-paced character matching the fast-paced life of a theater manager, constantly moving from one project to the next. He’s fast but always concentrating completely and giving his all to every project he decides to work on. His character really holds the film together too. There’s not much in terms of plot, what I’ve mentioned two paragraphs ago is essentially all there is for most of the film. We’re just watching a guy do his job. It picks up a bit after that, but this is more a story of Cagney’s character than a typical plot-driven musical. I would say that Cagney does a really good job of bringing his off-the-wall character to life and I think I could watch him and his secretary talk about anything. Their dialogues are so fast paced and enjoyable, they really bring their characters, and this movie, to life.
Why you should watch it before you die: Though it has a plot so loose you could argue it doesn’t have one, it’s characters and musical sequences are so enjoyable you’ll hardly notice.
+8: a fun musical comedy
-0.5: plot’s a bit lacking
+1: James Cagney’s great performance