There’s no lace on this picture. It’s raw and brutal. It’s low-brow material given such workmanship as to make it high-brow. To square everything there’s a foreword and postscript moralizing on the gangster as a menace to the public welfare.
Pushing a grapefruit into the face of the moll (Mae Clarke) with whom he’s fed up, socking another on the chin for inducing him to her for the night while he’s drunk, and spitting a mouthful of beer into the face of a speakeasy proprietor for using a rival’s product are a few samples of James Cagney’s deportment as Tom, a tough in modern gangster’s dress.
The story [by Kubec Glasmon and John Bright] traces him and Matt (Edward Woods) from street gamins in 1909 as a couple of rowdy neighbourhood boys. Titles then designate lapses in time of 1915, 1917 and finally 1920. During this interim they’ve killed a cop on their first big job, and both kids are set to go the hard way.
The comedy in the picture, as well as the rough stuff, is in the dialog and by-play with the dames who include, besides Clarke, Joan Blondell and Jean Harlow. Harlow better hurry and do something about her voice. She doesn’t get the best of it alongside Clarke and Blondell, who can troupe.
1930/31: Nomination: Best Original Story