This was film noir, movies where evil not only exists, but flourishes. Cagney’s Cody Jarrett isn’t a charismatic outlaw who viewers could vicariously admire, but rather a despicable embodiment of immorality, a man who takes what he wants whenever he wants it, mocking and abusing all those he comes in contact with—including the cops, members of his own gang and his less-than-virtuous wife, Verna (Virginia Mayo).
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.