James CagneyJames Francis Cagney (1899-1986), was an American actor and dancer. Like many of his contemporaries, Cagney's career began in Vaudeville where between 1922 and 1929 Cagney appeared in many productions learning his craft. These short term productions ranged from high drama to low comedy and the musicals which Cagney would always prefer.
In 1929 he appeared in a play called Penny Arcade. After seeing the play, Al Jolson immediately acquired the screen rights and approached Jack L Warner head of production for Warner Brothers and offered him first refusal but insisted that Cagney and his co star Joan Blondell keep their original parts in the screen version, by then renamed Sinner's Holiday. Warner agreed and so began a relationship between James Cagney & Warners that would last on and off for 25 years.
It was Cagney's role in The Public Enemy (1931) that propelled him to stardom but was also responsible for seeing him typecast as the cocky tough Irish American gangster. Cagney longed for other types of roles such as the dancing roles he preferred and in 1933 he got his wish in the glossy depression era musical Footlight Parade.
Between 1930 and 1936 Cagney was making on average 5 movies a year and when Jack Warner refused to negotiate his contract, Cagney walked. He formed Grand National Pictures with the intention of making the films he wanted to make and try to distance himself from the tough guy persona that had been created at Warners. Without the financial backing he had been used to at Warner Brothers, the films produced at Grand National were low budget, hastily shot and poorly promoted as a result, they were not successful and the studio was short lived.
After the demise of Grand National, Cagney returned to Warners in 1938 to play Gangster Rocky Sullivan in Angels with Dirty Faces, a role which would earn Cagney his first Oscar nomination. The movie was a huge commercial and critical success, with Cagney back in tough guy mould, Angels was followed by Each Dawn I Die and The Roaring Twenties.
In 1942 Cagney starred in Yankee Doodle Dandy, a musical biopic of one of Cagney's boyhood hero's George M Cohan, and it earned Cagney his only Oscar win. Cagney always felt this was double triumph as not only had he received the highest accolade any actor could, but he was overjoyed to have won it for a musical and not a tough guy role.
After a further dispute with Warner's in the mid 1940's Cagney went independent again with his Brother William acting as manager and producer. The films he made in this period were only moderately successful. In 1949 he returned to Warners again to star as the sociopathic Cody Jarrett in White Heat, a performance widely regarded as one of the best of the gangster genre.
In 1955 he made his last film for Warner's A WWII Service Comedy called Mister Roberts co-starring Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon and William Powell. Soon after, he moved to MGM and continued to work steadily until 1961. After filming the Billy Wilder cold war comedy, One, Two, Three, Cagney retired from the screen he was 62 years old.
He received many offers of work throughout the 60's and early 70's and declined them all, including an offer from Francis Ford Coppolla to appear in The Godfather. In May 1974, Cagney became the first actor to receive the American Film Institutes Lifetime Achievement Award.
After suffering a series of strokes in the late 1970's Cagney was encouraged back to the screen in 1981 on the advice of his wife and his doctors wishing to keep him active in both mind and body. He made Ragtime for Milos Forman, and finally the made for TV movie Terrible Joe Moran in 1984, by which time Diabetes had all but confined Cagney to a wheelchair and sadly most of his dialogue had to be dubbed by a voice impressionist. It was to be Cagneys last screen appearance..
James Cagney died at his home in March 1986 only a few months short of his 87th birthday. His wife of 62 years whom he affectionately called 'Bill' survived him.
James Cagney - what members say
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James Cagney - filmography
James Cagney facts
5 most recent filmsRagtime - 3.0 stars
One, Two, Three - 3.5 stars
Shake Hands With The Devil - 4.0 stars
Man Of A Thousand Faces - 3.5 stars
Tribute to a Bad Man - 3.0 stars
5 highest-rated filmsWhite Heat - 4.0 stars
Angels with Dirty Faces - 4.0 stars
The Roaring Twenties - 4.0 stars
The Public Enemy - 4.0 stars
Love Me or Leave Me - 3.5 stars
5 lowest-rated filmsStarlift - 0.5 stars
James Cagney - Signature Collection Vol.2 - Torrid Zone - 2.5 stars
A Midsummer Night's Dream - 3.0 stars
James Cagney - Signature Collection Vol.2 - The Fighting 69th - 3.0 stars
James Cagney - Signature Collection Vol.2 - The Bridge Came C.O.D/The Fighting 69th/Torrid Zone/The West Point Story - 3.0 stars
Most frequent co-starsPat O'Brien - 4 times - show films
Virginia Mayo - 4 times - show films
Virginia Mayo - 4 times - show films
Robert Armstrong - 3 times - show films
Doris Day - 3 times - show films
Most frequent directorsWilliam Keighley - 5 times - show films
Virginia Mayo - 5 times - show films
Roy del Ruth - 3 times - show films
Raoul Walsh - 3 times - show films
John Ford - 2 times - show films