At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

SINNERS HOLIDAY (Warner Bros Archives)

By • Mar 5th, 2015 •

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James Cagney makes his screen debut here, and will you be surprised. He plays young Harry, the son of snappish, streetwise Mrs. Delano (Lucille La Verne), who runs a Coney Island Penny Arcade. In SINNER’S HOLIDAY, Cagney is not the snarling, face-pushing gangster we all came to love. His Harry is streetwise, involved with some small time hoods, but he comes across as sheepish – more soft-spoken. He reminds us here of a young Leonardo DiCaprio.

SINNERS HOLIDAY has an interesting back story. Joan Blondell, who plays Cagney’s “best goil” remembered going to a cattle call audition for a New York play titled “Maggie The Magnificent”. “The audition room was overstuffed with young hopefuls. Everybody wanted a part. I found myself jammed against a red-haired mug. He told me ‘Your eyes are so big, they look like they are about to pop out of your head. What’s there to be nervous of?” Joan got the part, and the red-haired mug – James Cagney – was cast as her love interest. “Maggie the Magnificent” wasn’t so magnificent at the box office, but it got Cagney and Blondell cast in another play “Penny Arcade”. Al Jolson happened to catch “Penny Arcade” and instantly bought the film rights for Warner Brothers. Cagney and Blondell were cast and transported out to California. Cagney was signed to a three-week contract to make the film. He later commented “I came out here on a three week guarantee, and I stayed, to my absolute amazement for thirty-one years.” Ironically, Jolson, who clearly started Cagney’s film career, never met the red-haired mug.

SINNER’S HOLIDAY feels like a play, the way entrances and exits are staged. It has a familiar “A boy’s best friend is his mother – not the hoods down the street” moral to it. Cagney’s and Blondell’s spunky New York personas lift the movie from antique to something worth keeping in a video library. By the way, Joan Blondell (that’s her real name) is a brunette here – her natural hair color.The star of the film, Lucille La Verne, as the constantly nagging and correcting Ms. Delano, has a notable back-story herself. She had worked in the theatre since the 1870’s, first as a popular child actress. In 1898, the twenty-six year old Lucille La Verne became the manager and director of the Empire Theater in Richmond, Virginia. She staged five shows every season, and received mostly rave reviews. Her most popular production was an adaptation of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carole” which toured nationwide.Her most notable screen work was voicing the Evil Queen and the apple-selling hag in Disney’s SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS.

Cagney would spend about a year bouncing across supporting roles in various films, including DOORWAY TO HELL, where he plays the right-hand-man to a retiring mobster (played by grossly miscast, youthful Lew Ayres.) Then, this movie called THE PUBLIC ENEMY came along, and yes, the rest is history.

For the James Cagney buff, SINNERS HOLIDAY, available through Warner Home Video Archive, is a must have.

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