City for Conquest (1940)

“Call it applause, call it ambition, call it whatever you’d like — but it’d take a lot more than a man to come between you two.”

Synopsis:
An aspiring dancer (Ann Sheridan) chooses a performing career over marriage with a truck driver (James Cagney) whose decision to fight for a boxing title leaves him with devastating consequences.

Genres:

Review:
DVD Savant nicely summarizes this Anatole Litvak-directed flick as follows:

City for Conquest is an ambitious James Cagney movie given the full Warner treatment. Although it doesn’t quite hit the mark on any of its four or five themes it gives them all a college try… It is a gangster picture, a boxing picture, a “poetic” symphony-of-the-city epic, a starstruck show-biz career picture — and for a finale it even tries to graft on the end of Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights.

Indeed, there’s a heck of a lot packed into this “ambitious” film, which purportedly disappointed Cagney enough to prompt him to write a letter of apology to the source novel’s author. With that said, it’s atmospherically shot by James Wong Howe, and never boring to watch, even if one wishes for a little less going on. Perhaps least successful is the framing use of “Old Timer” Frank Craven (narrator of Our Town) for opening, closing, and intermittent commentary as a hobo who’s seen all sorts of misadventures occurring in the Big City of New York. This footage was excised for many years and suddenly reappeared — though it arguably should have been left aside. Watch for Arthur Kennedy in his film debut, and Elia Kazan in a supporting role.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ann Sheridan as Peggy
  • James Wong Howe’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look by Cagney or Sheridan fans. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

One Response to “City for Conquest (1940)”

  1. Agreed – not must-see; sort of a ‘popcorn flick’ of the period.

    It’s tailor-made to the tough Warner Bros. style, with all of the standard (occasionally over-the-top) tough-talk to match. True, it’s never boring (and the performances are competent) but it doesn’t particularly stand out for any reason. (Craven’s commentary is a bit much.)

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.