The Public Enemy

By on January 11, 2010

Tom Powers and Matt Doyle are best friends and fellow gangsters, working their way up through the criminal ranks from early adolescence well into adulthood. Profits earned from bootlegging during prohibition have given them a taste of the “enviable” life and whetted their appetites for more money and power. Tom in particular becomes more and more brazen in what he is willing to do, and becomes more obstinate and violent against those who either disagree with him or cross him.

When one of their colleagues dies in a freak accident, a rival bootlegging faction senses weakness among Tom and Matt’s gang. A gang war ensues, and Tom and Matt most hide out and let things take their course. But because of Tom’s basic nature, he decides instead to take matters into his own hands and soon spirals out of control.

The infamous grapefruit scene caused woman’s groups around America to protest the on-screen abuse of Mae Clarke.

Because of the famous grapefruit scene, for years afterward when dining in restaurants, fellow patrons would send grapefruit to actor James Cagney, which – almost invariably – James Cagney would happily eat.

Several versions exist of the origin of the notorious grapefruit scene, but the most plausible is the one on which James Cagney and Mae Clarke agree: The scene, they explained, was actually staged as a practical joke at the expense of the film crew, just to see their stunned reactions. There was never any intention of ever using the shot in the completed film. Director Wellman, however, eventually decided to keep the shot, and use it in the film’s final release print.

The scene where Tom shoots the horse that threw and killed Sam “Nails” Nathan in a riding accident was based on an actual incident. In 1924, Sam “Nails” Morton, a member of Dion O’Banion’s gang, was thrown from his horse and killed while riding in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. Other members of the gang, led by Louis “Two Gun” Alteri, kidnapped the horse, took it to the spot where the accident occurred, and shot it dead.

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