Cagney & Other Movie Stars
“HE moved more gracefully than any other actor in Hollywood,” Kenneth Tynan said of him, and excluding only Chaplin, Keaton, and Astaire, he couldn’t have been speaking about anyone but James Cagney. Though the actual televised award ceremony was mainly the embarrassment such things seem inevitably to be, the American Film Institute’s recent bestowal of its second “Life Achievement Award” on Cagney was a gesture I approved as wholeheartedly as I did the giving of the first award to John Ford. Like Ford, however, Cagney really can’t be grasped through film clips, and perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the TV presentation was the impression it might leave in the minds of those unfamiliar with Cagney’s best work that the occasion was just another wallow in nostalgia, a sentimental tribute to the movies’ original “tough guy,” or one of those media events whose ostensible subject has somehow been mislaid, much as the actual film of The Great Gatsby now seems to be no more than the tail end of the fashion industry’s “Gatsby look.” Yet there’s no discernible Cagney boom so far, at least not on the order of the recent Astaire revival, nor has there ever been a Cagney cult comparable to Bogart’s. Some of the reasons for this seem fairly obvious, others rather less so.
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