CITY FOR CONQUEST (director: Anatole Litvak; screenwriter: John Wexley/novel by Aben Kandel; cinematographer: Sol Polito/James Wong Howe; editor: William Holmes; music: Max Steiner; cast: James Cagney (Danny Kenny, Young Samson), Ann Sheridan (Peggy ‘Peg’ Nash), Frank Craven (Old Timer), Donald Crisp (Scotty MacPherson), Frank McHugh (Mutt), Arthur Kennedy (Eddie Kenny), George Tobias (Pinky), Jerome Cowan (Dutch), Elia Kazan (Googi Zucco), Lee Patrick (Gladys), Anthony Quinn (Murray Burns), Blanche Yurka (Mrs. Nash), George Lloyd (Goldie), Joe Gray (Cannonball Wales), Jerome Cowan (“Dutch”), Ben Welden (Cobb); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Anatole Litvak; Warner Brothers; 1940)
“The heartwrenching tearjerker love story surfaces at the end as a winner by a narrow decision.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Anatole Litvak (“The Sisters”/”Blues in the Night”) directs and John Wexley provides the screenplay that’s based on the novel by Aben Kandel. It has James Cagney playing Danny Kenny, a brash truck driver-turned-boxer, who in 1934 lives in the slums of the Lower East Side. Danny has a younger pianist brother Eddie (Arthur Kennedy), whom he is putting through musical school and dreams of playing the symphony he composed about the city. There’s also a “goil” from the neighborhood, the pretty Peggy Nash (Ann Sheridan), whom he’s nuts about. She’s an aspiring dancer, who dreams of escaping the slum by becoming a great dancer and sees her ticket to success through loudmouth boorish dance partner Murray Burns (Anthony Quinn). The reluctant boxer changes his mind when he sees he needs more dough to support his nice guy brother and win back the goil he’s losing.
As Danny begins to rise to the top in the welterweight class under top-flight fight manager Scotty MacPherson (Donald Crisp), boxing under the name of Young Samson, he gets partially blinded during the championship fight by the rosin dust-tinged boxing gloves of crooked fighter Cannonball Wales. Danny’s neighborhood pal, the gangster Googie (Elia Kazan), exacts revenge by killing the gangster Dutch (Jerome Cowan), but is killed by crooked manager Cobb (Ben Welden) who thwarts his execution by pulling out a gun from under the car’s hood. The hardened Danny deals with his tough break without whining and opens a newsstand, and encourages the despondent Eddie to keep at his music despite his musical setbacks. Danny’s encouragement leads Eddie to at last getting a chance to perform his symphony at Carnegie Hall. Peggy, who left her bully dance partner and big-time professional contract to be a nightclub dancer, listens to the concert at Carnegie Hall and hears Eddie give a warm speech thanking his brother for making the concert possible. She then rushes to Danny’s newsstand, where he heard it on the radio, and they reconcile for a happy ending.
It’s an uneven melodrama, given the full corny and phony Warner Brothers formulaic treatment, but Cagney and Sheridan effortlessly play their parts well and the heartwrenching tearjerker love story surfaces at the end as a winner by a narrow decision.
REVIEWED ON 7/23/2006 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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