The “G”-Men (1935)

GMenThumbby Brad Nelson   12/29/13
This time Jimmy Cagney is on the right side of the law in this film about the early days of the FBI. The days are indeed early; the “G”-men don’t even carry guns. They’re just getting organized in the fight against crime where crossing state lines has been the criminal’s best friend.

Cagney is young and charming (he’s about 36) as the honest lawyer on the wrong side of the river waiting for clients in his new law practice. That his schooling was paid for by a crime lord who is a surrogate father figure is an interesting twist.

His career takes a turn when “Brick” Davis (Cagney) is prodded into the Justice Department by an old college friend who tells him that law enforcement is a lot more exciting than sitting behind a desk.

And so it is. And it proves dangerous as well for these early “G”-Men who are gunless and undermanned. But when the crime spree and body count mount up, Congress finally steps in and gives the department needed powers, including machine guns to match the firepower of their adversaries.

There is a love interest or two in the story. And Cagney’s background and familiarity with a crime gang from his old stomping grounds both help and hinder him in his attempt to become a “G”-Man.

This story is fun, adventuresome, and well-paced from the very start. Some of the “G”-Men barely qualify as actors (with the exception of Lloyd Nolan). But that adds a bit of charm to the film. Or maybe all “G”-Men talk in the same monotone voice. Could be.

This was a breakout role for Cagney who heretofore had usually played the bad guy. But he shows a rare charm and likeability. It’s hard to picture that this is the same guy who played the maniac in White Heat. This is another can’t-miss film from the glorious era of black-and-white.


It’s the early days of the F.B.I. – federal agents working for the Department of Justice. Though they’ve got limited powers – they don’t carry weapons and have to get local police approval for arrests – that doesn’t stop fresh Law School grad Eddie Buchanan from joining up, and he encourages his former roommate James “Brick” Davis (James Cagney) to do so as well. But Davis wants to be an honest lawyer, not a shyster, despite his ties to mobster boss McKay, and he’s intent on doing so, until Buchanan is gunned down trying to arrest career criminal Danny Leggett. Davis soon joins the “G-Men” as they hunt down Leggett (soon-to-be Public Enemy Number One) and his cronies Collins and Durfee, who are engaged in a crime and murder spree from New York to the midwest. More »

Available on DVD ($6.00 new, $3.22 used) or Amazon Instant Video ($2.99 rent, $9.99 buy). Not available for streaming on Netflix.


Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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