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CAGNEY, JOHNNY & A GOODBYE KISS

For Hicksflicks.com, May 2, 2014

Newspaper movies were churned out with some regularity back in the 1930s and '40s. All the big stars seemed to take a turn at bringing down big-city corruption with newsprint at one time or another, and some did it fairly often.

James Cagney was a newspaper photographer in "Picture Snatcher" (1933, b/w) and an alcoholic reporter in "Come Fill the Cup" (1951, b/w), and in between he played a go-getter who becomes managing editor of a small-town paper going up against local corruption in the underrated "Johnny Come Lately" (1943, b/w).

               

But whatever diversions his career took, Cagney always returned to the kind of role that made him a star in "The Public Enemy" (1933, b/w), a crazed gangster showing no remorse as he fights, cheats and kills his way to the top. And following his great success late in his career with "White Heat" (1949, b/w), the very next year he played another ruthless thug in "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" (1950, b/w), a prison escapee whose utter lack of morality brings him financial success until a femme fatale brings him down.

Both films are among the "forgotten gems" of Cagney's career, having been unavailable for decades, but the independent label Olive Films released "Kiss" last year and "Johnny" arrives on Tuesday (May 6). Hard to believe but the Olive releases marked the DVD debuts of both films.

And as was the case with many old movies from the studio system, they are also filled with familiar character players.

"Johnny Come Lately" features terrific roles for Marjorie Main ("Ma and Pa Kettle"), Hattie McDaniel ("Gone With the Wind") and Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West in "The Wizard of Oz"). Marjorie Lord (later to gain fame as the wife on "The Danny Thomas Show") provides the love interest.

            

  MacLane, Payton, Cagney and Bond, 'Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye'

And "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" co-stars Barbara Payton, one of the great film noir stars of the 1950s, along with John Ford regular Ward Bond (who later starred in TV's "Wagon Train") and B-movie icons Luther Adler, Kenneth Tobey, Steve Brodie, Barton MacLane and William Frawley (who gained fame on TV as Fred Mertz in "I Love Lucy").

Cagney fans will be in heaven. But there's plenty of entertainment for the uninitiated, as well.