Warner Home Video presents
City for Conquest (1940)
"Everything was going so good until that sharpie came along and gave her a fancy line of gab."- Danny (James Cagney)
Stars: James Cagney, Ann Sheridan
Other Stars: Frank Craven, Donald Crisp, Frank McHugh, Arthur Kennedy
Director: Anatole Litvak
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 01h:44m:08s
Release Date: 2006-07-18
DVD ReviewThere are a million stories in the naked city, and it sometimes feels like this movie is going to try and tell every last one of them. City for Conquest is jammed with enough plot for at least a couple of feature films, and from our jaundiced perspective it can seem awfully corny; I expect it seemed that way even back in the day, though, with big lugs trying to grab the brass ring and hoping to win the hearts of their best girls. It's even larded up with not one but two framing devices—the first features a boozy old timer remembering how it was back in the day, and the second presents us with child actors showing us scenes from the early years of the young adults we'll be watching for the rest of the running time. Keeping everyone straight, early on especially, is a struggle, but a handful of familiar faces makes the effort a bit easier.
James Cagney stars as Danny Kenny, who's got the skills to be a world-class boxer, but doesn't want to end up like one of the punch-drunk has-beens he sees hanging around the neighborhood. Mostly Danny just wants to make time with Peggy, who lives downstairs—but Peggy dreams big, about her name up in lights, and she's deft enough on her feet that she just might have the stuff to be the next Ginger Rogers. Danny's brother, Eddie, has Gershwinesque dreams of his own—he's got an easy facility for cranking out sixteen-bar popular tunes, but he wants to compose a piece of music as big as all of New York, fit for the symphony, not just Tin Pan Alley. (The piece he works on throughout the movie is clearly inspired by Rhapsody in Blue.) So just what's going to happen to these crazy kids with their great big dreams?
Not everything they'd hoped, that's for sure. Soon Peggy is swooped up by Murray, who signs her up as his partner for the vaudeville circuit, and it's clear that he's got more than just the foxtrot on his mind. He's played by Anthony Quinn, and it's deeply strange to see him as a dolled-up smoothie, but he and Cagney make for great rivals for Peggy's attention. Cagney himself gives in to a whole lot of aw shucks in his performance, but it works; Peggy, the girl he pines for, pretty much treats him like dirt, but somehow Ann Sheridan pulls it off without making the character seem relentlessly loathsome. Arthur Kennedy has just the right balance of street smarts and aesthetic grandeur as the aspiring Beethoven, and most interesting of all in a supporting role may be Elia Kazan. He's not a great actor, but here he plays Googi, a tough guy from the 'hood who gets into the business of fixing fights—in one sequence, he's discussing a rigged bout in the back of a New York taxi, and it's hard not to see this as a very rough dry run for the Terry/Charlie confrontation that Kazan directed in On the Waterfront. Oh, Charlie. Wow.
Danny steps back into the ring in an effort to get Peggy's attention, and his title bout is the central sequence of the movie in many respects; after that, things do get a little maudlin, but generally the movie is very well shot. (One of the credited cinematographers is James Wong Howe, one of the masters of evoking the streets of New York, as a look at Sweet Smell of Success will verify.) The pace is so brisk that allowing your attention to wander for even just a couple of frames will likely throw you off kilter—then again, so many of the plot elements are familiar that you'll probably be able to fill in the blanks.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Much of the sharp photography has gone muddy with the years, and you'll notice quite a bit of debris, too. It's all a bit too rough, and appears as if not much was done in aid of improving the appearance for this DVD.
Image Transfer Grade: C
Audio Transfer Review: The many dance numbers strain the dynamics on the mono track, but the dialogue is generally audible.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Fighting 69th
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Richard Schickel
- Warner Night at the Movies
- Lux Radio Theater adaptation
Molls and Dolls: The Women of Gangster Films (20m:04s) is almost a Cagney career overview, featuring his romantic relationships in movies like The Public Enemy (grapefruit, dear?) and White Heat. It's a good piece, with observations from filmmakers (Martin Scorsese, Lili Fini Zanuck), film historians (Rick Jewell, Patricia King Hanson) and others, but it's maybe a bit out of place, as the feature on this disc can't really be classified as a gangster picture.
Richard Schickel provides a commentary track, which is strongest on providing biographical background on the actors and filmmakers; this is certainly one of Schickel's better efforts, and having recently written a biography of Kazan, he's got some good things to say about the director's work on screen. But Schickel doesn't have much of a fan base when it comes to those who listen to and write about these tracks; there are no egregious sins on this one, though there are many silent passages, and perhaps Warner Bros. should consider casting a wider net.
Anyway, Breakdowns of 1940 (11m:50s) is a studio gag reel, featuring William Demarest, Joel McCrea and their colleagues going up on lines, using modest profanity, and even occasionally losing a hairpiece. And along with an original trailer is a 1942 Lux Radio Theater broadcast of the feature—Cecil B. De Mille is your host, though Cagney and Sheridan have been replaced by Robert Preston and Alice Faye.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsA spirited, overcrammed movie about a group of crazy neighborhood kids from central casting in pursuit of their great big dreams. You do need to have a taste for this stuff to love it, but there's plenty here to latch on to.
Jon Danziger 2006-07-19