Saturday, October 2, 2010

Joyce in City For Conquest (1940)

Here's a screen shot of Joyce Compton dancing with a young Anthony Quinn in the gritty Warner Brothers melodrama City for Conquest. Slickly directed by Anatole Litvak, the film is a fun if somewhat hokey and overly ambitious outing. James Cagney stars as Danny Kenny, a pugnacious New Yorker who becomes a championship boxer to help fund the career of his composer brother (Arthur Kennedy). He's also stuck on childhood friend Ann Sheridan, but the teary-eyed Ann doesn't realize the depth of his feelings until after she's taken off to form a ballroom dancing act with the manipulative Quinn. The excellent supporting cast includes sturdy WB faves such as Frank McHugh, Donald Crisp and George Tobias, as well as Elia Kazan as a stereotypically Jewish gangster named Googi.

City for Conquest is one of those films I saw a long time ago and totally enjoyed, despite its shortcomings. The film has its feet planted in several different genres - gangster pic, musical, boxing thriller, small-man-in-the-big-city melodrama - never quite settling on one. Cagney and Sheridan are both fine, the photography is nice and lush, and the score is full of beautifully arranged renditions of pop standards like "The Lullaby of Broadway." The sheer earnestness of the plot gets laid on a bit thick - especially with the DVD edition containing previously unseen footage of a narrator named 'Old Timer' played by Frank Craven. The bearded stranger comments on the proceedings in such an annoyingly folksy manner, one wishes Cagney would deliver him a swift right hook.

Joyce plays Lilly in the film, a "good time gal" and amateur dancer who is first seen twirling around with lothario Quinn. When Quinn spots Sheridan across the floor, however, the poor girl is left in the dust. Not a huge role by any means, but Joyce is engaging as usual (notice how she attempts to ingratiate herself with Cagney's clique). This is a good example of how a skilled character actor can enliven a film with just a short scene or two.

City for Conquest received a handsome DVD release by Warner Home Video in 2006; recently the film was repackaged in an affordable TCM Greatest Gangster Films set along with Cagney vehicles G-Men, Each Dawn I Die and White Heat.

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