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TAXI!(director: Roy Del Ruth; screenwriters: based on Kenyon Nicholson’s play/John Bright/Kubec Glasmon; cinematographer: James Van Trees; editors: Ralph Dawson /James Gibbon; cast: James Cagney (Matt Nolan), Loretta Young (Sue Reilly), George E. Stone (Skeets), Guy Kibbee (Pop Reilley), Leila Bennett (Ruby), Ray Cooke (Danny Nolan), Dorothy Burgess (Marie Costa), David Landau (Buck Gerard), George Raft (“Willie” Kenny); Runtime: 68; Warner Bros.; 1932)
“Just what a Depression audience wanted to see.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A breezy comedy about a taxi war in New York City, the revenge of a murder, and the romance of a beleaguered couple, Matt Nolan (Cagney) and Sue Reilly (Young). Cagney plays the volatile role of a guy with a chip-on-his-shoulder; while Loretta plays his sweet and beautiful girlfriend, hoping that she can change him.

The film is passe as melodrama but moves with intensity in its characterizations, catching a slice of urban life by featuring genuine characters and showing the pressure involved to make a living in the big city. Ruby (Leila Bennett) is Sue’s roommate girlfriend and works in the same restaurant, where both are waitresses. She speaks in a heavy New York accent and offers slices of gefilte fish for advice. Her taxi boyfriend is the best friend of Matt’s, Skeets (Stone). He is hopelessly in love with her and is also very loyal to Matt, and is the butt of most of Ruby’s barbs. One of the funniest scenes is when Cagney, who was born in New York and can actually speak Yiddish, speaks in an emphatic Yiddish to his fare.

Pop Reilly (Guy Kibbee) is told by a muscleman, Buck Gerard (Landau), for the big taxi syndicate Consolidated, to vacate his location or else he will be sorry. When he refuses, a truck destroys his taxi and thereby destroys his livelihood. Pop reacts by fatally shooting the burly truck driver and is sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Matt talks at a rally to the indie cabbies telling them to fight back, but when he brings Sue to address the men and back him up she tells them her father just died in prison and the men should look for peaceful means to settle their dispute. This angers Matt, as they fight and say they won’t see each other any more. Soon, Consolidated can’t handle the bad publicity they are getting and they decide to make a truce.

The couple will go through numerous fights where they break up and then make up. One of the more hilarious fights is when the couple comes in second at a dance contest and Cagney gets into a brawl with the winner, who happens to be George Raft. He even fights with the clerk when the couple decides to go for a marriage license, blaming him for stepping on his toes in the elevator.

When the couple are celebrating their wedding at the Cotton Club nightclub, a drunken Buck is there with his girlfriend Marie (Burgess). He gets into a fight with Matt when he snidely says, you got married because you had to. Buck pulls out a knife and when Matt’s peaceful brother Danny (Cooke) tries to come between them, he gets fatally stabbed in the back.

Matt refuses to squeal to the police and decides to get Buck himself. Marie is worried that either the police will get her boyfriend, or that Matt will kill him. She therefore gives Sue a $100 so that she has fare to leave town with Buck before Matt gets him.

Warning: spoiler in next paragraph.

Matt learns about this after catching Sue in a lie and comes storming into Buck’s hideout apartment just as he is about to escape the country. The police arrive to arrest Matt on a complaint by Marie, but he breaks free and fires into the closet where Buck is hiding. But Buck tried to escape through the back window, and he falls to his death. The film ends with Sue leaving but when Cagney throws his hat back in the empty apartment, they kiss and get back together again. Ruby then has the movers bring the furniture back up.

The expose of the taxi industry is played down, the violence is kept in check, and the comedy and romance is highlighted as this typical Warners crime film turns out to be a big box office success. It knew just what a Depression audience wanted to see and lets the public see the kind of escape film they craved.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”