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Romancing gangland

At times, watching classics long after their release may leave you with a feeling of déjà vu. That's because other filmmakers often keep referring to such classics in their own works years later.

movie reviews Updated: Jul 20, 2012 23:31 IST

Public Enemy
Enlighten, Rs. 399
Rating: ****

At times, watching classics long after their release may leave you with a feeling of déjà vu. That's because other filmmakers often keep referring to such classics in their own works years later. The thing with Public Enemy, a gangster film first released in 1931, is that it's the favourite of a rather large number of filmmakers and stars. You are likely to have come across its influences somewhere. Consider the fan following. It has been referenced by Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood. One scene from it - of the hero rubbing grapefruit into a woman's face - has inspired at least half a dozen scenes, including one in Some Like it Hot. Filmmakers Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick count the lead actor, James Cagney, as one of their favourites. And this was the film that made Cagney the gritty hero he came to be known as.

The story starts in 1909 with kids Tom and Matt, who are willing to bend a rule or three to get what they want. By the time they grow up into rough teenagers, the US is under Prohibition and bootlegging is the biggest money-earner for gangsters. With the help of other small-time crooks dreaming big, characters such as Putty Nose, Paddy Brian and Nails Nathan, Tom and Matt corner a part of the illegal booze market and climb into swish society. Matt, played by the handsome Edward Woods, sticks with the strong-jawed Tom of Cagney through thick and thin. Can they together overcome their violent past? Sounds like so many other gangster films? Well, we told you so.