James Cagney in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950)


(director: Gordon M. Douglas; screenwriters: from the book by Horace McCoy/Harry Brown; cinematographer: Peverell Marley; editors: Walter A. Hannemann/Truman K. Wood; music: Carmen Dragon; cast: James Cagney (Ralph Cotter), Barbara Payton (Holiday Carleton), Helena Carter (Margaret Dobson), Ward Bond (Inspector Weber), Luther Adler (Cherokee Mandon), Barton MacLane (Reece), Steve Brodie (Jinx Raynor), Rhys Williams (Vic Mason), Herbert Heyes (Ezra Dobson), John Litel (Chief of Police Tolgate), Neville Brand (Carleton), Frank Reicher (Doc Green), William Cagney (Ralph’s Brother), Mack Williams (Hartford, supermarket owner); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Cagney; Warner Brothers; 1950)

“Brutal and cynical.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is an energetic straightforward crime drama based on the book by Horace McCoy (“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They”) and the screen play, which hardly makes sense and is the root of the film’s problems, is by Harry Brown. Gordon M. Douglas (“Come Fill the Cup”/”Only the Valiant”) helms it by keeping it fast-paced, brutal and cynical, and lets star James Cagney pick up where he left off in the year earlier White Heat as an unsympathetic mad dog killer. This was an even tougher film, but the crowds didn’t respond to it as favorably as they did to White Heat (which seems odd, since it’s basically the same type of B-movie).

Ralph Cotter (James Cagney) stages a daring daylight escape from a prison work farm in Ohio that was arranged by a fellow inmate (Neville Brand), only to shoot him in the head so he doesn’t slow Ralphie boy down. Jinx Raynor (Steve Brodie), a petty criminal and owner of a radio shop, drives the getaway car and the dead inmate’s sister Holiday Carleton (Barbara Payton) is also in the car. Ralph claims the guards killed him, which upsets sis who acts as if she’s repelled by Ralph. But back in town a snarling Ralph slaps her around and threatens to expose her as accomplice in the escape and before you know it they’re shacking up and she’s involved up to her elbows in his bloody heist schemes along with a frightened Jinx. These schemes escalate when Ralph and Jinx hold up Hartford’s supermarket and in the robbery Ralph kills the owner. Two crooked cops, Inspector Charlie Weber (Ward Bond) and Lt. Reece (Barton MacLane), are tipped off of the robbery by crooked garage owner Vic Mason (Rhys Williams), the crippled unctuous slob who arranged the prison escape and is owed $1,000 by Holiday. It seems Vic and Ralph didn’t hit it off, and Vic wanted to get even with him for acting crazy with him.

The crooked cops shakedown Ralph for his share of the heist money and tell him to get out of town with Holiday, but Ralph turns the tables on the cops by getting Jinx to secretly record on phonograph their dirty deal and then holding that over the cops to have a shotgun crime partnership.

Soon Ralph gets shady underworld lawyer Cherokee Mandon (Luther Adler) in on his scheme and has enough time when not venting anger at the world to marry the richest and daffiest girl in the state, Margaret Dobson (Helena Carter), even when warned by Cherokee that her ex-political bigwig dad, Ezra Dobson (Herbert Heyes), is a powerful steel industrialist and will cause him grief and eventually ruin his sweet heist partnership with the cops after he gets through investigating him.

Ralph’s good luck continues when he knocks off the local crime boss’s collectors and steals over $50,000 of their daily take and dumps the bodies of the three collectors in the quarry, making it look like they ran off with the dough. But when the jealous Holiday learns of the marriage and that Ralph killed her brother, she tells the psychopathic killer to “kiss tomorrow goodbye” and puts a few slugs in him. It ends with the seven people Ralph involved in his schemes going to trial, as his honest brother (William Cagney, James’s real-life brother) produces the bribery recording mailed to him for safe keeping for the authorities.

The film when released was banned in Ohio.