Cagney is an escaped con in a movie produced by his brother William and based on a novel by Horace McCoy. Unlike the poster shouts, the is not Cagney”Hotter than in White Heat.” You can’t fault Cagney’s acting but Barbara Payton leaves a lot to be desired.
The movie is told via flashback as it starts in a courtroom where six men and a girl are on trial for murder. The eighth defendant is missing.
Ralph Cotter (James Cagney) is on a prison work farm. He tells guard Byers (William “Fred Mertz” Frawley) he needs a drink. He’s taken to a creek. Byers talks with another guard and doesn’t notice Cotter taking two guns out of the water.
When Cotter gets back to the work gang he tells fellow con Carelton (Neville Brand) the break is all set and gives him a gun. They get the signal as a waiting car blows its horn and take off running. Bullets fly and Cotter plugs Carelton, jumps in the car and off he goes. In the back seat is Holiday (Barbara Payton) Carelton’s sister. Cotter tells her the guards killed her brother. The car is being driven by Jinx Rayner (Steve Brodie).
Cotter holes up in Holiday’s apartment. She wants him out but reminds he her one of her bullets killed a guard. Holiday owes a debt to garage owner Mason (Rhys Williams) for the getaway car. Cotter and Jinx rob a supermarket to get the money for the debt. During the robbery Cotter slugs the supermarket manager over the head. Later on the manager dies.
Mason tips off crooked cops Inspector Weber (Ward Bond) and Lt.Reece (Barton MacLane) to Holiday’s apartment where they’ll find Cotter. They want a cut of the robbery and Cotter has Jinx wire the apartment and they get the cops on tape which Cotter has made into a record. Cotter goes to the garage and tosses Mason into a grease pit. He thinks he’s killed him. Nope.
Their next stop is spiritualist Doc Green to get the name of a lawyer. That gets them in touch with Cherokee Mandon (Luther Adler). Cotter plays the record for Weber and Reece with Mandon as a witness. Weber says he’ll kill him until Cotter says there are copies of the record.
Cotter gets to know Green’s assistant Margaret Dobson (Helena Carter). She’s a rebel and the daughter of one of the richest men in the state. Mandon warns him about Dobson but Cotter ignores him and he and Margaret end up married. Her father says he’ll have the marriage annulled. Dobson asks Cotter to agree not to claim any part of the family fortune and the marriage is annulled.
Cotter wants to rob the town’s top bookie. When he sees how much money he makes he decides to take over the whole operation. He gets a policeman’s uniform from Weber and forces three of the bookie’s collectors to drive out of town after making their rounds.. They’re never seen again.
Manson tells Cotter that Dobson’s been looking for him. Margaret refuses to give him up and the annulment is cancelled. Cotter agrees with Margaret to leave town right away. He goes to Holiday’s apartment to pick up a few things. She always thought she and Cotter were an item. Not a smart move.
Cagney fans, including me, will like this because of him but it isn’t one of his best. It comes across as padded and that really slows things down. It is nice to see all the character actors. William Cagney makes a quick appearance as Cotter’s brother.
SF fans know Helena Carter as Pat Blake in 1953’s “Invaders From Mars”, her last movie.