Public Enemy, The (Blu-ray) (1931)

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Released 1-Jan-2015

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Crime Drama Audio Commentary-Film historian and author Robert Sklar
Featurette-Beer and Blood: Enemies of the Public (19:37)
Featurette-Warner Night at the Movies: Featurettes / trailer / cartoon
MoreÖ-Rerelease Foreword (0:45)
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1931
Running Time 84:02
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By William A. Wellman

Warner Home Video
Starring James Cagney
Jean Harlow
Edward Woods
Joan Blondell
Donald Cook
Leslie Fenton
Beryl Mercer
Robert Emmett O'Connor
Murray Kinnell
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music David Mendoza

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 1.0
German Dolby Digital 1.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

†††† In 1909 Tom Powers and his friend Matt Doyle are young boys involved in petty crime, fencing their stolen goods through a minor gangster named Putty Nose (Murray Kinnell). Six years later Tom (James Cagney) and Matt (Edward Woods) have graduated to grander larceny and when Putty Nose proposes a heist at a fur warehouse and provides them with pistols, they jump at the chance. But this goes badly wrong: a policeman and a gang member are shot and killed and Putty Nose disappears, leaving the boys to hide out as best they can.

†††† At home Tomís hardworking and honest elder brother Mike (Donald Cook) knows and disapproves of what Tom has become while their mother (Beryl Mercer) dotes on Tom. In 1917 when America joins WW1, Mike enlists; in contrast Tom and Matt start working with bar owner Paddy Ryan (Robert OíConnor) to distribute stolen alcohol. With Prohibition in 1920, the flood gates open: Paddy teams with mobster ďNailsĒ Nathan (Leslie Fenton) to sell bootleg alcohol and Tom and Matt become their enforcers, making sure the bars take their alcohol and not that of the rival Burns mob. Flush with cash (crime does pay, and very well) Tom and Matt buy new clothes, a new car and are known in nightclubs and speakeasies. Matt meets and ultimately marries Marmie (Joan Blondell) while Tom lives, rather dismissively, with Kitty (Mae Clarke). He does not appreciate women, with the notable exception of his mother, until he meets and is smitten with Gwen Allen (Jean Harlow). Their comfortable life, and the status quo, is broken apart when Nails is killed in a riding accident opening the way for the Burns mob to initiate open warfare for control of the lucrative elicit alcohol trade. Death follows.

†††† It is well known that the original casting for The Public Enemy was Edward Woods as Tom and James Cagney as Matt but a couple of weeks prior to shooting the roles were reversed, either by the producers or the director depending on different stories. The result is film history as Cagney, with his charm, mannerisms, his slightly lopsided smile and dialogue delivery became a star. He is electric to watch whether toying with a scared Putty Nose before shooting him, misusing a grapefruit (in a famous, or infamous, scene) or keeping his feelings in check in front of his mother. So effective was Cagney that throughout his long career he tried to get away from the typecasting of his tough guy image, even winning an Oscar for the musical Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), yet he is generally still best remembered for tough guys including Tom Powers and Cody Jarrett in Raoul Walshís White Heat (1949).

†††† Second billed in The Public Enemy was Warnerís rising female star Jean Harlow although she does not appear until over half way through the film and disappears soon after. However, she is radiant on screen, with an almost luminous blonde beauty, and she delivers the longest, and strongest, monologue in the film sitting on Tomís lap which could have been kitschy but which instead comes across as compelling. Harlowís star burned brightly for Warners in her short career, including appearing in six films with Clark Gable, before she tragically died from complications from uremic poisoning in 1937; she was only 26.

†††† The Public Enemy was directed by William A. Wellman, himself a wild man who had flown in WW1 with the French Lafayette Escadrille. Wellman directed Wings (1927) starring Clara Bow which won the equivalent of Best Picture in the very first Academy Awards and he went on to direct Beau Geste (1937) with Garry Cooper and Ray Milland and to win an Oscar for his screenplay of the original A Star is Born (1937). It is intriguing trivia that the last film he directed in 1958 was Lafayette Escadrille with Tab Hunter and Clint Eastwood in the cast! The Public Enemy is episodic in nature, with captions identifying the year breaking up the action, but Wellman keeps the story flowing, establishing a number of events, such as bombings and shootings, that became staples of the gangster genre. However, much of the violence including the shooting of the Policeman and Putty Nose and the gunfight at the climax, occurs off screen which adds to the power of the sequences.

†††† So magnetic and compelling was Cagneyís performance that text screens were added to the start and the end of the film stating that the film was not intended to glorify the hoodlum but to depict honestly a strata of American life and that the end of Tom Powers was the end of every hoodlum. But at least for Cagney, crime (on screen) certainly paid very well and his performance, as well as The Public Enemy itself, holds up amazingly well almost 90 years after the film was made. Rather mindboggling if one cares to think about it.

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Transfer Quality


†††† The Public Enemy is a black and white film presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

†††† Is this film really almost 90 years old? I doubt that it has ever looked better. There is some softness in establishing stock footage but generally detail is strong with good blacks and shadow detail and nice variations in greyscales. Some scenes are quite grainy but generally film grain is well controlled. There is some blur with motion and once a slight change in contrast but otherwise this is a lovely clean print without scratches or marks.

†††† English and German subtitles for the hearing impaired are available plus French, Korean, Spanish and Portuguese.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


†††† Audio options are English DTS-HD MA 1.0 and German Dolby Digital 1.0.

†††† Dialogue is easy to hear with Cagneyís accelerated rhythms, Harlowís distinct voice and Robert OíConnorís Irish brogue coming across clearly. The gunshots resonate nicely, the coal shuttle delivery and the rain are also effective uses of the audio. There is slight hum in some scenes without music or effects but it is never distracting.

†††† There is no credited score with only some popular tunes used.

†††† The lip synchronisation is pretty good.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Audio Commentary by Robert Sklar

†††† Film historian and author Robert Sklar provides information on the origins of the screenplay, the opening text screen, the cast, including their subsequent careers, the casting including the switch of roles between James Cagney and Edward Woods, the director, the censorship of the film when it was rereleased. He also gives a historical perspective on the period the film was made and the gangster genre but his focus is on the psychology of gangsters and especially the character of Tom Powers, which can be a bit dry. Still, this is well worth a listen.

Warner Night at the Movies

†††† Leonard Maltin provides an introduction (3:16) to these short featurettes which comprise a night at the movies in 1931. The featurettes can be selected individually or there is a Play All option.

Beer and Blood: Enemies of the Public (19:37)

†††† This is a decent re-examination of The Public Enemy and its impact with contributions by director Martin Scorsese plus authors and film historians including Robert Sklar, Alain Silver, Drew Casper and Mark A. Vieira. Items covered include the novel Beer and Blood upon which The Public Enemy was based, the realistic, almost documentary, approach of the film, how Cagney got the lead role and his command of the screen, the casting of Jean Harlow, the attributes of director William A. Wellman, the notorious grapefruit scene, the power of the off screen violence and the fact that there was no score, only source music. Made in 2005, this is a good feature that is still well worth a look.

Rerelease Foreword (0:45)

†††† A scrolling text screen warning of the evils for society unless the men depicted in The Public Enemy and Little Caesar were checked.

Theatrical Trailer (0:48)

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

†††† This release of The Public Enemy is identical to the Region Free US version, right down to the US anti-piracy warning.


†††† Almost 90 years after being made The Public Enemy still packs a punch. The Public Enemy together with Little Caesar (1931) starring Edward G. Robinson set the template for the many gangster films that followed them and influenced directors including Martin Scorsese. Made when talking pictures were in their infancy, Cagneyís fast delivery of dialogue was new, realistic and compelling, his screen presence electric. On this Blu-ray, The Public Enemy looks wonderful and with a decent set of extras is an easy purchase for fans of classic films.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Monday, May 11, 2020
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

Other Reviews NONE
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