|Directed by||William Keighley|
It’s the early days of the F.B.I. – federal agents working for the Department of Justice. Though they’ve got limited powers – they don’t carry weapons and have to get local police approval for arrests – that doesn’t stop fresh Law School grad Eddie Buchanan from joining up, and he encourages his former roommate James “Brick” Davis (James Cagney) to do so as well. But Davis wants to be an honest lawyer, not a shyster, despite his ties to mobster boss McKay, and he’s intent on doing so, until Buchanan is gunned down trying to arrest career criminal Danny Leggett. Davis soon joins the “G-Men” as they hunt down Leggett (soon-to-be Public Enemy Number One) and his cronies Collins and Durfee, who are engaged in a crime and murder spree from New York to the midwest.
Brick Davis is a street-wise New York City lawyer who decides to join the US Department of Justice and become a G-Man after his friend Eddie Buchanan, also a G-Man, is gunned down by mobsters. Davis’ schooling was actually paid by a friend, Mac McKay, a benevolent mobster who wanted to make sure that Brick didn’t end up on the wrong side of the law. He hasn’t been very successful as a lawyer so law enforcement seems to be the next best thing. When mobsters go on a spree of bank robberies in the US mid-west, Davis is assigned to the Chicago field office. As they arrest the mobsters one by one, Davis learns that the rest of the gang is hiding out at a hotel run by his onetime friend and mentor McKay. Things come to a head when the last remaining gunman kidnaps a fellow G-Man’s sister.
In this film, which was made after one of the many “censorship” reforms, the gangsters are never seen using the common gangster weapon: the Thompson Sub-Machine Gun. In an effort to curb the violence in movies, the new “production codes” forbade the use of the weapon by gangsters on camera for fear that it would corrupt the youth of America (a fact explained in the Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) DVD documentary). This is especially evident during the lodge shootout. All of the cops and FBI agents have Tommy guns, 12-gauge pump shotguns and automatic pistols, while the gangsters only have revolvers and lever-action rifles.
Puff Piece for the Federal Bureau of Investigation
When Machine Gun Kelly gave up, uttering that famous line, “Don’t Shoot G-Men”, he gave the Federal Bureau of Investigation members a moniker that has survived down to this day. He also entitled an upcoming film being made at Warner Brothers about the FBI.
Though the FBI had been in existence since 1908, founded during the Theodore Roosevelt administration, it’s structure and mystique never took shape until Calvin Coolidge’s Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone appointed a young civil servant named J. Edgar Hoover as it’s new head.
The place was known as dumping ground for political hacks up to that time and Hoover put an end to it. He brought in the laboratories and fingerprint data base. Folks who had law and accounting degrees saw the FBI as a good career now. Crime was now national and a national organization was needed to fight it.
Probably if J. Edgar Hoover had put in his retirement at the end of World War II his historic reputation would be a lot higher today. The negative stuff about him only comes during the McCarthy Era and beyond until his death in 1972. And only after that.
If Hoover was nothing else, he was media conscious. One of filmdom’s most notorious gangster actors went on the side of law and order for G-Men. James Cagney is a young lawyer who’s not doing so good in private practice, wasting the education that an oldtime gangster helped finance. After his friend FBI agent Regis Toomey is killed, Cagney joins the FBI. His knowledge of the underworld is put to some good use though he has a lengthy time winning acceptance from his superior, Robert Armstrong.
Lloyd Nolan makes his debut as an FBI agent here also. Later on during the Forties, Nolan played THE ideal conception of what J. Edgar Hoover had in mind for an agent in The House on 92nd Street and The Street With No Name.
A couple of incidents fresh in the mind of the public were recreated for G-Men, the famous Kansas City Massacre and a shootout at a rural motel that involved Baby Face Nelson who escaped as chief hood Barton MacLane does here. No doubt these scenes lent a certain documentary authenticity to the film.
G-Men dates very badly, the FBI is still respected, but not revered as it once was. But Cagney and the cast do a fine job and G-Men is a relic of bygone years.
Cagney ‘s ‘Untouchables’
Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
29 October 2005
Here’s an old-time (about 75 years old!) gangster movie that is fast-moving as all James Cagney crime films tend to be. In here, Cagney is the good guy, a “government man” out to get crooks, one of whom turns out to be his old pal. All the characters in here are pretty interesting, particularly Cagney’s boss played by Robert Armstrong.
Watching this film, one discovers an interesting fact: government agents weren’t allowed to use guns in the early days. That didn’t change until things got totally out of control with too many defenseless lawmen getting killed.
Margaret Lindsay also stars in this movie, and that’s a good thing. The more I see of her, the more I like her. It would have been interesting to see what roles she’d play if she was a young actress in today’s films.
Finally, the action scenes in this film reminded me of the old television series, “The Untouchables” with the machine guns blazing out of those big, boxy 1930 automobiles.
One of Cagney’s best
Author: MartynGryphon from Coventry, England
7 June 2004
I could go on record as saying that G-men is probably my favourite film of all time, but I won’t. Though it would certainly have no need to fight for a place in my top 5, as anyone who’s seen this movie could see why it would have a well earned place there.
Cagney plays the tough guy again, but this time firmly on the side of Uncle Sam, as a laywer turned Federal Agent to avenge the death of a friend. Cagneys performance is one of his best, and it’s not just cagney that shines, Robert Armstrong is brilliant as Cagney’s tough talking FBI boss. and Regis Toomey’s good but brief appearance as Cagney’s doomed friend is equally pleasing.
I love everything about this Movie, the guns, the Cars, the suits, the music. The only thing I don’t like, is that every version you find of this great film these days has the annoying and rather pointless prologue added in 1949, showing a group of ‘FBI Men’ (or actors as I like to call them) having a training session where the instructor tells this fledgling officers that Gangsters are scum and and that law and order will prevail. WHY????????
The 1930’s were Warner Bros’s glory days, and their gangster films were rightly regarded as the best crime movies ever (until supplanted by the brilliant Godfather movies). However, the new makes way for the old, and Pacino, De Niro, Brando, as good as they are, could NEVER replace the cockiness of Cagney, the ruthlessness of Raft,and the barbarity of Bogie(though sadly neither Bogart or Raft appear in this picture I’m afraid). Maybe that’s where the film could have been better with Barton McClanes lacklustre performance as Cagney’s gangster nemesis, being replaced by either George Raft or Humphrey Bogart. I’m not going to spoil the plot, as this movies a treat for all fans of B&W gangster films. this is a MUST SEE
Margaret Livingston, I Presume!
Author: (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
9 September 2006
“G-Men” is one of the best of Warner Brothers gangster films. It casts James Cagney, known at that time for his gangster roles, on the right side of the law for a change.
Lawyer “Brick” Davis (Cagney) is a well educated lawyer with no clients. He is visited one day by an old friend Eddie Buchanan (Regis Toomey) who encourages Brick to join the Department of Justice Bureau of Investigation (soon to be named the Federal Bureau of Investigation).
When Eddie is murdered by gangster Collins (Barton MacLane), Brick decides to apply to the Department of Justice. It should be noted that in the FBI’s early days they could only engage lawyers and accountants and were not permitted to carry firearms. Brick is assigned to tough laconic Jeff McCord (Robert Armstrong) who is of the opinion that Brick will never make an effective agent.
McCord and Bureau Director Bruce Gregory (Addison Richards) both believe that to be effective, the bureau needs to have national jurisdiction, be allowed to carry weapons and hire law enforcers and not lawyers.
As it turns out Brick was rescued from the street by gangster Mac McKay (William Harrigan) who took him in and provided him with his education. Brick soon demonstrates his capabilities and quickly gains the confidence of his superiors. Along the way he meets McCord’s sister Kay (Margaret Lindsay) and the two fall in love. Bad girl Jean Morgan (Ann Dvorak) also has this thing for Brick.
When Collins’ gang disappears, Jean is brought in for questioning and we learn that she has married Collins after Mac closed his night club. She gives Brick the lead he needs and the Bureau takes action. Collins escapes the Bureau’s attack on his gang and…………………
Director William Keighley gives us one of the classic gangster movies. It changes the focus on the hero from a gangster to a law enforcement officer, but at the same time offers one of the best shoot outs of the genre.
Cagney loses nothing in his switch from the wrong to the right side of the law. He remains his usual cocky fast talking self. Armstrong in a role that usually was played by Pat O’Brien, is effective as McCord. Of the female leads, Dvorak has the best role. Lindsay is merely around as Cagney’s good girl love interest. MacLane, Warners resident gangster, turns in his usual good performance as the brutish Collins.
Others in the cast include Lloyd Nolan in an early role as Brick’s fellow agent, and Edward Pawley, Noel Madison, Harold Huber and Raymond Hatton as assorted gangsters.
In 1949, the film was re-released to help mark the FBI’s 25th anniversary. A prologue featuring David Brian showing the film to a group of new recruits was added.
A word about the DVD commentary by film historian Richard Jewell. For someone who should know better, he makes two glaring errors regarding the cast. He identifies David Brian as Brian David and Margaret Lindsay as Margaret Livingston. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have heard him call Cagney, James Pygmy or MacLane, Barton Fink. A little more thorough research Mr. Jewell.