Thursday, August 24, 2023

Taxi! (1932): A Review



This review is part of the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. Today's star is Loretta Young.

Taxi! is a curious James Cagney pre-Code film in that he plays someone on the right side of the law. He's still a brawler, but Taxi! gives Cagney a rare chance to show a slightly less belligerent side. 

Shady men are trying to muscle in on legitimate taxi drivers in New York City, leading to a turf war. One cab driver, Matt Nolan (James Cagney) is able to stand up to the mobsters. However, another cab driver and acquaintance of Matt's is not so lucky. Older driver Pop Riley (Guy Kibbee) fights for his spot, but in the melee he ends up killing the gangster. Sent up the river, Pop dies in prison. His daughter Sue (Loretta Young) is with Matt's de facto union in spirit, but is also against the eye for an eye philosophy Matt espouses. Matt for his part is both cold towards Sue's views but hot for her, and despite themselves they fall in love and get married. 

Things by this time settle into an uneasy truce between the legitimate and illegitimate taxi drivers. As Matt and Sue celebrate their wedding with a night out with Matt's brother Danny (Ray Cooke), there is someone else at the nightclub that spells trouble for the Nolans. It's Buck Gerard (David Landau), the man responsible for muscling in on Pop Riley's spot who still holds a grudge against Matt. Despite the best efforts of Sue and Marie (Dorothy Burgess), Buck's girl, there is a killing that threatens Matt and Sue's happiness. Will Matt end up following Pop's path in his thirst for revenge? 

What makes Taxi! work well is the overall acting. Of particular note is Guy Kibbee. Known for playing mostly comic characters like sweet sugar daddies, Kibbee is quite effective and tragic in his few moments on screen. 

The film's two stars are also excellent in their roles. While Loretta Young eventually became the embodiment of class and fashion through her eponymous television series, early in her career she played working class women, some of easy virtue. In Taxi!, she is simultaneously gentle and firm as Sue. Young shows Sue's spine when standing up to Matt at the taxi drivers' meeting, but she also shows a vulnerable side when attempting to save Matt by trying to get Buck out of town. Young blended a strength and vulnerability to Sue, which made for great viewing.

James Cagney, as stated, was not playing the gangster but the mob victim here. It's a nice change of pace, but we still saw the fiery, short-tempered but charming figure he played in his pre-code films. He is rakish, even devilishly sweet when working with Young. When facing Buck or in an early role George Raft as a rival dance contest participant, Cagney is the tough, brutal figure. His scene where he sees someone close to him die, however, will break your heart.

Taxi! even allows for Cagney to show humor, such as when he manages to pick up a fare who speaks only Yiddish. A little-known fact is that Cagney himself spoke Yiddish, which he used to his advantage when the Warner brothers attempted to keep things secret from him in his presence. It gives Taxi! a realistic manner, with Cagney as what he was: an authentic New Yorker.

Taxi! is a surprisingly short film, running a little over an hour. However, it packs a lot into its running time. This gritty story of tough men and the tougher women they love is a strong film. The Kubec Glasmon and John Bright adaptation of Kenyon Nicholson's play moves fast, with director Roy Del Ruth putting things together well. Well-acted by the cast, Taxi! is a strong film.  


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