Cagney, along with Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni and, later, Humphrey Bogart, invented the film gangster. Each brought a sense of the street and gritty realism. For Cagney, that came naturally. He grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and had to drop out of college after one semester when his father died. He knew how to be tough, in an argument or in a rumble.
In the midst of a dinner party in his honor, Capone (Robert De Niro) takes out a Louisville Slugger and delivers a tribute to baseball as the All-American sport. As his underlings smoke cigars and chuckle in agreement, Capone circles a huge round table—finally stopping behind one nodding toadie. He briefly speaks of betrayal and then applies a few Ruthian swings to the employee’s skull.
A child murderer is terrorizing the city. The police hunt is intense, but fruitless. So the cops redouble their efforts—rousting bars, hassling citizens walking the night streets, turning a bright spotlight on the creatures of the back alleys. The killer still remains at large, but there’s an unexpected side effect: with every flophouse and crime den being raided on a nightly basis, the underworld pimps, thieves and pushers cannot operate.
Europe had yet to recover from the First World War and the Allied peoples were at a grave psychological disadvantage in comparison with the civilian population of Nazi Germany. Through nearly a decade of political indoctrination, news censorship and threats of imprisonment or worse, the German people were schooled for war. To Orwell, the only things that could shake the British out of their complacency were the drone of the engines of German aircraft over London and the detonation of the bombs they dropped.
Dillinger is a B-movie and doesn’t attempt to be more than that. There is not a lot of back story, and not much motivation beyond the character’s oft-repeated line of, “I like to steal people’s money.” But the 107-minute string of robberies, escapes and gun fights works because of an excellent cast and because Director John Milius (Red Dawn, Conan the Barbarian) knows how to shoot a violent action film.
Stasis, whether in art, life, economics or political culture, was distasteful and to be done away with. Having spent much of the 1920’s doing typographic and book design as well as designing toys and puppets, Sutnar was well-placed to bring his left-of-center, democracy-inspired radicalism to everything from porcelain to book covers.
The theme of making a life choice between love or ambition has been a staple of literature since the Aeneid. You might think that this novel has little new to recommend it besides the unorthodox choice of the Depression as a setting for a romance Rules of Civility, however, is a book of amazing depth. In this, his first novel, Amor Towles reveals an exceptional flair for character development.
Chaos and Classicism tells the story of good intentions that went terribly wrong. After the carnage of trench warfare, sensitive spirits in Europe craved artistic depictions of beautiful bodies, unscathed by shrapnel, and timeless, uncluttered architecture inspired by the Greek and Roman past. Yet, it was not long before this craving for life-affirming art was transformed into the soulless ideology of Mussolini’s Fascist Italy and Hitler’s Third Reich.
Even so, to hold The Lacuna in one’s hand, to read it, is to witness and experience years of distilled effort and research. Like Diego Rivera’s murals, it is a lager-than-life work full of color, life, and movement, one executed by a masterful artist at the height of her creative powers.
Mawer’s The Glass Room is a genuine intellectual achievement—a breath-taking story of love and its loss, of art and lost art, of wars lost and then won and lost again, of rich gentleman Jews and Jews lost to Nazi madness. His broad canvas covers the decades of Mittel-European horrors that began in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s. The themes are familiar, but treated in a fresh and stimulating, not to say disturbing, way.
It was on the level of popular culture that the vital “center” of life in the United States held firm during the Great Depression. Weekly trips to the neighborhood movie house, looking at photos of a revitalized nation in Life Magazine, listening to President Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats on the radio, following the home team in the still vigorous daily newspapers, these rituals of daily life were the principal means of keeping faith in America’s future, of believing that the only thing to fear was fear itself.
Readers of faint heart beware when embarking upon this superb work of history. So many stories of suffering are here collected, so utterly specific in their brutal details, a strong stomach will be required. Yet, it is worth the pain since one cannot emerge doubting: the epoch is surely one of history’s most vicious; and its revelation of the Twentieth Century’s brutality is dumbfounding.
They were also a PR dream. Initially working for her future husband, Robert Love, the young and pretty Nancy Harkness was hired to demonstrate and sell airplanes. Predicted to replace the family car, the private plane was seen as the wave of the future. If women could fly it, the perception was, anybody could. What Love thought of all of this malarkey, the cheesecake photographs and press coverage, is hard to determine.
Meanwhile, walls of buildings were rising, mud roads were being paved, library books were being delivered on horseback, archaeological digs were being excavated, and Orson Welles was directing an all-black version of Macbeth set in the Haitian jungle. Along with the carpenters and secretaries, painters, sculptors, writers, and actors had also joined the ranks, though with some confusion on how one measured an artist’s full working week. The WPA was feeding a need, both for the individual and the community.
Mussolini was not the only dictator of his time. In his Europe, in a time of worldwide economic depression, a whole series of governments were run by “strong men.” Besides Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany, there were authoritarian regimes if not dictatorships in the 1930s in Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, and Spain. There were Blueshirts in Ireland, Blackshirts in Britain, and Vidkun Quisling’s followers in Norway. At the eastern end of Europe lay the greatest dictatorship of them all, Stalin’s Soviet Union.