Precode Hails a Taxi!
Taxi went out with an exclamation point ... Taxi! ... so to convey, I guess, throb of Gotham streets just outside the
|Jim and Loretta Young Have an Ice-Cream Break Between Taxi! Scenes|
Waitress Loretta Young primps before a cracked mirror. Maybe that was to show even her looks were no guard against poverty which by early 1932 had firmed its grip. Just getting in to see Taxi! meant you were flush, or at least had a dime the landlord or gas meter didn't get. With Cagney doing four at least shows a year at Depression's peak, could even most dedicated fans afford to catch his quarterly act? He was valued most for how-to on slugging ways out of hard times. Jim right away traded gangster-ing of Public Enemy for confidence tricks barely within the law, or when beyond it, stopping short of murder. Increasing appeal made us want to see him live, if not prosper, at the finish, sentiment patrons felt for most precode self-starters, Cagney most of any. One that broke rules and expectation, He Was Her Man, played TCM recently. I'll not spoil its ending for the picture having done as much in 1934. Significantly, this would be the first Cagney vehicle to lose money for Warners.
|Mickey Shares Marquee Space with Cagney --- Was The Mouse Jim's Animated Counterpart?|
Precode speakers had this way of making ordinary language sound profane. Or was it ordinary? Case in Taxi! point: James Cagney refers to one guy as a "wet smack," sneering that off as though it were basest obscenity. I don't recall any wet smacks cropping up after PCA enforcement took hold in mid-1934, so why was that? Turns out there was good reason for the banishment, "wet smack" being British slang for masturbation, and a pretty commonly known, if not widely used term (for obvious reasons) in the UK. Movies here have commonly dealt words a lot heavier freighted over there ... "bum" and "shag" come to mind. I've tried finding what "wet smack" meant in US utterance when Taxi! and precode thrived --- did Cagney and WB scribes figure it for a sex barb as did the Brits?
One scene after another displays Cagney versatility. He dances here, cries there, speaks Yiddish (well) not two minutes in. Jim was a fortunate (for Warners) product of the melting pot theatres dreamed to attract. A Barrymore or Fredric March couldn't throw the net he did. JG was raised among innumerable dialects and ethnic sprawl. This actor from beginnings had down their every gesture, being expert mimic he was. Cagney makes with the Yiddish for his entry scene of Taxi! and right there introduces a talking screen's concept of Street Smart. The moment still thrills for our knowing he needn't resort to phonetic memory device, as JC knew the language cold and even used it to overhear Warner bosses when they imagined use of Yiddish would exclude him from finer points of contract negotiation.
Cagney didn't just cry in that movie era when men seldom did. He convulsed. There's a younger brother death scene where JC breaks down to almost startling degree. There'd been glimpse of unchecked emotion in screen debut Sinner's Holiday, so maybe Cagney legions were conditioned for his anything-going, but imagine delight when he revealed dancing chops in extended head-to-toe demo of what vaudeville and Broadway trouping had taught him. What Cagney did was called the Peabody, which I'm told is a quick-step Fox Trot. All that need be said of this sequence is that it lasts about a tenth as long as we'd like it to (JC's rival in the dance contest is George Raft, an expert himself and picked personally by Cagney so there'd be a meaningful competition). With Taxi! now waxed and polished by the Library Of Congress, here's hope that Warners will get it out as a DVD Archive release.