The Public Enemy (1931)

I honestly thought this film was going to be a bit of a bore because though I like modern gangster films and TV shows, I thought classic gangster films would have less violence.  This one did (I’m guessing because of the time era) but I still liked it anyways.

To start off, I could tell from Tom and Matt’s childhood that they would grow up to be gangsters because of the way they behaved.  They were brats in that they would pull tricks on people, especially on Tom’s sister.  They were in the profit making game by selling watches.  And Tom was fearless because he wasn’t scared when he knew his father was going to beat him.

Camera angles showed social standing and personalities.  For example in an scene from the childhood years Tom’s father is standing on top of the porch and Tom is on the ground and they’re talking/scolding.   When we see Tom’s image its a high-angle shot and his father’s image is a low-angle shot.  This showed the difference between authority.  The father is “looking down” on the son while the son has to “look up” to his father and obey him.   The difference between authority is also shown in the scene when Tom and Matt are true gangsters and they are about to kill that piano man from their childhood.  The high-angle is  on the piano man in the chair showing how weak and powerless he is while the low-angle is on Tom and Matt to show that they are the ones with the power.  Isn’t it nice though to know that Tom went from a high-angle punk to a low-angle “man”.

Speaking of the piano man, I thought it was really really cool the way his death was shown.  Not because he died off-screen but because Tom shot him in a musical way.  The piano man was playing and singing and before he finished the words “her back”, he was shot but it was 2 gunshots on beat to probably symbolize the two left out words.  His death also symbolized the end of an innocent childhood.

Tom’s gestures are another thing to talk about.  One of his favorite things to do is to knuckle people faces which can be seen as a hug or handshake depending on the person.  But I must say, knuckling ones mother is a bit out there.

Though the knuckle gesture was sweet his other movements were violent which is to be expected of a gangster but I was surprised when he was violent towards his wife. I thought a stereotype of gangsters was that though they are rough people, they are gentle towards women.  Tom would also shove his girlfriend and mother so I guess that’s not true. By way another stereotype which seemed to be true in the film is that most gangsters have a wife and girlfriend.

There were 3 times in the film when I felt sympathetic towards the gangster character. First was at Larry’s funeral.  His mother was crying but the police and some other men didn’t care about his death and even said that he got what he deserved.  The second time was when Matt was killed.  Though Matt was a gangster, he was kind and loving and loyal.  Last time I felt bad was when Tom show up to the door of his house dead.  I knew it was going to happen because I had a gut feeling something wasn’t right but I feel bad for his family.  It was like they were one being punished.

Speaking of Tom’s death that was my favorite scene.  When his brother opened the door and Tom’s body was there, the background was PITCH black.  I thought it was a very symbolic meaning of death, emptiness/nothingness, and the ultimate end of a gangster.

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Posted by cjenkins   @   17 September 2010

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Sep 20, 2010
5:45 pm
#1 itsumoyume :

Hm. I think I would agree with you about sympathizing with the gangsters. I expecially did for Matt, because he seemed like he didn’t like the part where they killed “Putty Nose”.
I feel like by the end of the movie I was more with the side of the gangsters, since the police was rarely involved in the film. Also, how did you feel about the “message” that was given and what you saw in the movie?
To me I believed that the “message” and what I saw were not really matching. The reason being that I disagreed with the message. To me the movie showed that if you are lead down the wrong path when you are young it’s hard to get out when you want to later in life. But even if you don’t want to go down that path, some things [events] just force you down that path [whether you want to go down it or not].

Sep 22, 2010
1:08 pm
#2 Amy Herzog :

Really rich observations regarding the way that certain camera angles encourage us to respond to the characters emotionally. And Julie, I had a very similar reaction to the “official” message that Warner Brother’s said it was promoting– for me, the film itself was suggesting a much more nuanced and sympathetic vision of organized crime.

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