Skip to main content

HOT & BOTHERED — The Films of 1932 Blogathon: "Taxi!"

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Roy Del Ruth, Taxi! (1932) begins when veteran cab driver Pop Riley (Guy Kibbee) is forced to abandon his prime soliciting location by a company trying to control the taxi business in New York. While defending himself, Pop shoots and kills one of the company's gang and is sentenced to prison, where he subsequently dies. Some of the independent drivers call a meeting and ask Pop's daughter Sue (Loretta Young) to speak. Hot-tempered Matt Nolan (James Cagney), another independent cabbie, is furious with Sue when instead of urging the drivers to fight back, she tells them that violence will not be effective. Despite his anger, Matt starts dating Sue and eventually marries her.

After their marriage, the couple goes out to a nightclub with their friends Skeets (George E. Stone) and Ruby (Leila Bennett), as well as Matt's younger brother Dan (Ray Cooke). While there, Matt and Sue are insulted by Buck Gerard (David Landau), the man responsible for the attacks on the independent cab drivers. Sue is initally able to prevent her husband from responding, but on their way out, Matt gets involved in a fight with Gerard, who stabs and kills Dan. Matt refuses to tell the police who murdered Dan because he wants to take revenge himself. In an attempt to stop this from happening, Gerard's girlfriend, Marie Costa (Dorothy Burgess), begs Sue for money to get Buck out of town so that Matt never catches up to him. After learning about Marie's visit, he follows Sue to Gerard's hide-out. He bursts into the apartment, where Marie and Sue manage to keep Matt from Gerard long enough for the police to arrive. At the last minute, Matt empties his gun into the door of the closet room where Gerard is hiding, but the police discover when they open it that he has fallen into his death while trying to escape. Sue decides to leave Matt, although before she finally moves away, he begs her to come back and she agrees.

Matt Nolan [to Buck Gerard]: Come out and take it, you dirty yellow-bellied rat, or I'll give it to you through the door.

In early 1907, a young New York businessman named Harry N. Allen became incensed when a hansom cab driver charged him five dollars for a three-quarter-mile trip from a Manhattan restaurant to his home. Angered by this extortion, Allen launched the first gasoline-powered taxi fleet, which consisted of 65 French-made automobiles. His new motorized taxicabs quickly replaced the horse-drawn carriages with their faster service and more accurate fares (computed by mechanical meter). By 1923, the industry had grown to 15,000 vehicles and was dominated by several large fleets, including Checker Co. and Yellow Cab Co. With the coming of the Great Depression in 1929, thousands of unemployed New Yorkers used their knowledge of the city and their driving skills to get hack licenses. By 1931, over 73,000 men held hack licenses, allowing them to compete for positions behind the wheel of 21,000 cabs in New York. Soon, easy entry into this all-cash business led to an oversupply of taxis, resulting in traffic congestion, fare-cutting wars, low driver wages, inadequately insured vehicles and other unsafe and sometimes illegal activities.The city government increasingly realized that the number of cabs had to be decreased and that further regulation was necessary.

Reform began under Mayor James Walker, who announced in January 1930 a plan to franchise the operation of all cabs in New York to a single vendor, making it illegal to be an owner-driver. He reasoned that the monopoly would relieve congestion, elevate driver earnings by reducing competition and earn cash for the city. However, Walker's scheme was received unenthusiastically throughout the industry, leading the mayor to create instead the Taxicab Control Bureau, a government entity that instilled cooperation between fleets and independent cabbies by regulating both kinds of drivers. In January 1932, the bureau ruled that no taxicab could operate in the city streets without a license. The big cad companies viewed these actions with approval, but the independent drivers were sure the bureau was formed only to crush them and vowed to fight. Later that year, it was discovered that Mayor Walker was accepting bribes from two of New York's largest fleets to approve a single contractor for taxi service. After this information became public, Walker was forced to resign from office. Interim Mayer Joseph McKee abolished the Taxicab Control Bureau in December 1932, during a drive to restrain city costs in the midst of the Depression.

James Cagney as Matt Nolan in Taxi!
Only a few years after the profession of the cabbie was invented, popular media — including the Hollywood motion picture industry — began to reflect many aspects of this new occupation. Nearly a dozen silent films made between 1916 and 1920 portrayed cabbies variously as heroes, criminals and bootstrap successes. In 1928-1929, silent film mogul Mack Sennett hired Del Lord to direct a series of six short comedies starring English-born actor Jack Cooper as a taxi driver who gets himself implicated in all sorts of trouble, usually involving the wife of a jealous husband.

In mid-1931, Warner Bros. screenwriters Kubec Glasmon and John Bright penned Taxi!, a dramatization of the then-current taxi wars in New York City.The duo  had recently received an Academy Award nomination for Best Story for The Public Enemy (1931), a hugely successful gangster film starring newcomers James Cagney and Jean Harlow. Taxi! was adapted from a play written for the stage by Kenyon Nicholson and titled The Blind Spot. In a prefactory note to the text, Nicholson explained: "The setting of this play is that part of New York City which lies between 34th and 40th Streets, west of Eighth Avenue. The characters are the 'younger generation' of the noisy, overcrowded section. They are not crooks or gangsters, but honest, hard-working young people who live their lives to the fullest, obeying the tenets of this own moral and ethical codes as religiously as do their more fortunate brothers and sisters of Park Avenue."

The male lead in Taxi! was naturally offered to James Cagney, who was building a reputation as Warner Bros.' resident "tough guy" after his success in The Public Enemy. A former vaudeville performer, Cagney made his screen debut in Sinners' Holiday (1930), his first of seven pictures with Joan Blondell. With the overnight popularity of The Public Enemy, Cagney began to compare his pay with his peers, thinking his contract allowed for salary adjustments based on the success of his films. Warners disagreed, however, and refused to give him a raise, which prompt Cagney to move back to his native New York. When Blonde Crazy (1931) also co-starring Blondell became another hit for Cagney, the studio finally relented and increased his salary from $400 to $1000 a week. Taxi! was his first film upon returning from New York.

Loretta Young and James Cagney
Joan Blondell was initially cast as Sue Riley, but was forced to withdrawn from the production due to scheduling conflicts with Union Depot (1932). The role was eventually assigned to Loretta Young, who, at the tender age of 19, was already a screen veteran. She had begun her Hollywood career in 1917, when she and her two sisters were employed by Paramount as extras in silent films. Ten years later, she signed with First National Pictures, which became a subsidiary of Warner Bros. in November 1929, and went on to co-star in such films as Loose Ankles (1930), The Devil to Pay! (1930) made on loan-out to independent producer Samuel Goldwyn and Platinum Blonde (1931).

The supporting cast of Taxi! included a variety of Warners "stock players." Successful Broadway actor Guy Kibbee, who was featured with Cagney in Blonde Crazy, The Crowd Roars (1932) and Footlight Parade (1933), was hired as the ill-fated veteran cab drive Pop Riley. Polish-born George E. Stone, assigned to the role of Matt's friend Skeets, built a career out of playing the leading man's best pal, from his dramatic performance in Little Caesar (1931) to his support of Chester Morris in the Boston Blackie series of B-films produced by Columbia Pictures during the 1940s. Stone and Cagney later appeared together in the costume drama Frisco Kid (1935). Character actress Leila Bennett was cast as Sue's friend Ruby, while stage performer Dorothy Burgess portrayed Marie Costa, Buck Gerard's female companion. The role of Buck Gerard was given to David Landau, who died just three years later from a stroke.

James Cagney and George E. Stone
To direct Taxi!, the studio hired Roy Del Ruth, who had also helmed Blonde Crazy. Beginning his Hollywood career as a writer for Mack Sennett, Del Ruth later directed his first short film, Hungry Lions (1919), for the producer. In the early 1920s, he transitioned to features with such early efforts as The Cat's Meow (1924), Hogan's Alley (1925) and The Little Irish Girl (1926). Del Ruth delivered several more titles before having the distinction of directing The Desert Song (1929), the first color picture even released by Warner Bros. According to Box Office and Exhibitor magazines, Del Ruth was the second highest paid director in Hollywood between 1932 and 1941, helming a series of hits including Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), Born to Dance (1936) and Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937).

Production on Taxi! began on September 16, 1931 on the Warners lot. Cagney had to be taught how to drive for his role in the film. Because he had been a New Yorker who could easily rely on public transportation, there was no real need for him to learn to drive until this time. In later years, he would admit that he never became a particularly good driver. Ironically, in his next movie, The Crowds Roars, he played a race car driver. Cagney also had to learn how to smoke cigarettes for Taxi!. Smoking was a common practice in films at the time, but Cagney was able to avoid much of this during his career. While he loathed smoking, his wife, Frances "Billie" Vernon, smoked a pack and a half a day for more than 50 years. However, she learned ways of keeping herself free of tobacco odor and smoked only in a special room at home. When Cagney was forced to smoke in a picture, she would coach him in the essentials and how to fake inhaling.

James Cagney and Loretta Young
Taxi! marked the first occasion when Cagney danced on screen, as Matt and Sue enter a Peabody contest at a public ballroom. Cagney was perfectly at ease with his own Peabody dancing skills he had been an aficionado of the step from a young age but he knew that the scene needed the tension of a worthy competitor. Since no one at Warner Bros. seemed capable of dancing the Peabody well, Cagney was frustrated at the thought that he might have to spend hours teaching someone.

Suddenly, Cagney thought of his friend George Raft, who had recently arrived from New York for a try at Hollywood. Raft's innate dancing ability enabled him to find work as a dancer in nightclubs in his youth and later led to his success on Broadway. Aware that Raft possessed "ample knowledge" of the Peabody, Cagney asked him to play the competing finalist in the contest. The scene culminated with Raft being declared the winner and getting punched by Cagney in return. Raft would embark on his own acting career with a defining performance later that same year in Scarface (1932) and eventually co-star with Cagney at the end of the decade in Each Time I Die (1939).

As in The Public Enemy, several scenes in Taxi! involved the use of real machine-gun bullets. In his autobiography, Cagney recalled: "From my taxi I had to fire two shots out of the window and duck; then a machine gun would cut loose and take the window out over my head. The scene was played as called for with one exception: one of the machine gun bullets hit the head of one of the spikes holding the backing planks together. It ricocheted and went tearing through the set, smacked through a sound booth, ripped across the stage, hit a clothes tree, and dropped into the pocket of someone's coat! I was young enough to not consider this pretty dangerous activity." After this incident, Cagney outlawed the practice of using live ammunition in his future films.

Loretta Young and James Cagney
Taxi! also contains two famous Cagney dialogues. The first features the actor conducting a conversation with a passenger in Yiddish. A city boy from the Lower East Side (of Irish Catholic extraction), Cagney prided himself on having learned Yiddish in order to survive in the ghetto street culture. When asked if he is a Jew, he responds, "Vu den, a shaygetz? (What else, a Gentile?)." At that point, a policeman (Robert Emmett O'Connor), who knows Cagney, asks, "Nolan, what part of Ireland did you folks come from?" Cagney smiles broadly and in a Jewish accent says, "Delancey Street, denk you!" The second bit of dialogue features Cagney speaking to his brother's killer through a locked closet. He says, "Come out and take it, you dirty yellow-bellied rat, or I'll give it to you through the door!" The provenance of this sequence led to Cagney being famously misquoted by his impressionists as saying, "You dirty rat, you killed my brother."

Young, who reunited with Del Ruth in Private Number (1936), later confessed to having developed a crush on Cagney during the making of Taxi!. "I admired him so much, though I could never tell him so," she said. "I remember having this romantic dream about him [...] in which I was drowning and he rescued me." Young was also in awe of her co-star's acting skills, recalling that Cagney had "complete control over expressing the whole gamut of emotions with his eyes. He could accomplish with a glance what other actors need a whole bag of tricks to put over."

Taxi! opened at the Strand Theatre in New York on January 23, 1932 to positive reviews from critics. Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times, for instance, considered that the film "moves along rapidly with good enough dialogue for the persons involved. [...] Mr. Cagney misses no chance to make his characterization tell. Loretta Young is sympathetic and able as Sue." Although the Variety reviewer liked the film, he was not pleased with the ending: "Taxi! speeds along interestingly until near the finish, where the script cheats Cagney of his revenge and thereby saves him from prison. It's a scenario compromise which will leave the majority of fans unsatisfied." Taxi! was a solid hit at the box-office, although it failed to surpass The Crowds Roars, released three months later.


This is my contribution to HOT & BOTHERED: The Films of 1932 Blogathon hosted by CineMaven's Essays from the Couch and Once Upon a Screen. To view all entries to the blogathon, click HERE.

 

___________________________
SOURCES: 
Cagney by John McCabe (2013) | James Cagney Films of the 1930s by James L. Neibaur (2015) | Taxi! A Social History of the New York City Cabdriver by Graham Russell Gao Hodges (2007) | James Cagney, Loretta Young Star in 'Taxi' | TCMDb (Articles) | The New York Times review | Variety review

Comments

  1. My favorite scene in this movie is when he proposed to Young while they're dancing. So cute!

    That's interesting about having to fake smoke! I've checked out his autobiography a couple times kept not getting around to reading it. I just read the first chapter. Guess I need to add it to my summer reading list!

    ReplyDelete
  2. To view all the entries to our Hot & Bothered Blogathon, please go to this link: https://cinemavensessaysfromthecouch.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/hot-bothered-3/ Thanks.

    ReplyDelete

Post a comment

Popular posts from this blog

Golden Couples: Gary Cooper & Patricia Neal

 It was April 1948 when director King Vidor spotted 22-year-old Patricia Neal on the Warner Bros. studio lot. A drama graduate from Northwestern University, she had just arrived in Hollywood following a Tony Award-winning performance in Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest . Vidor was impressed by Patricia's looks and asked her if she would be interested in doing a screen test for the female lead in his newest film, The Fountainhead (1949). Gary Cooper had already signed as the male protagonist and the studio was considering Lauren Bacall and Barbara Stanwyck to play his love interest.   Neal liked the script and about two months later, she met with the director for sound and photographic tests. Vidor was enthusiastic about the young actress, but her first audition was a complete disaster. Cooper was apparently watching her from off the set and he was so unimpressed by her performance that he commented, "What's that!?" He tried to convince Vidor to

The Gotta Dance! Blogathon: Gene Kelly & Judy Garland

   In 1940, up-and-coming Broadway star Gene Kelly was offered the lead role in Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's new musical Pal Joey , based on the John O'Hara novel about an ambitious and manipulative small-time nightclub performer. Opening at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Christmas Day, the show brought Gene is best reviews to date. John Martin of The New York Times wrote of him: "A tap-dancer who can characterize his routines and turn them into an integral element of an imaginative theatrical whole would seem to be pretty close, indeed, to unique." One of his performances was attended by established Hollywood star Judy Garland , who requested to meet him after the show. Gene agreed and then accompanied Judy and her entourage, which included her mother Ethel and several press agents, to dinner at the newly-opened Copacabana nightclub. They sang and danced until 3 a.m., after which Gene took Judy for a walk through Central Park, talking about the future possibi

The Sinatra Centennial Blogathon: Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly

  In January 1944, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer happened to see a young crooner by the name of Frank Sinatra perform at a benefit concert for The Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles. According to Nancy Sinatra, Frank's eldest daughter, Mayer was so moved by her father's soulful rendition of « Ol' Man River » that he made the decision right then and there to sign Frank to his studio. Sinatra had been on the MGM payroll once before, singing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the Eleanor Powell vehicle Ship Ahoy (1942), although it is very likely that Mayer never bothered to see that film. Now that Frank was «hot,» however, Metro made arrangements to buy half of his contract from RKO, with the final deal being signed in February of that year. Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in  Anchors Aweigh Being a contract player at the studio that boasted «more stars than there are in the heavens» gave Frank a sudden perspective regarding his own talents as a film performer. The «g

Moody New Star: A Portrait of James Dean by Dennis Stock

  Dennis Stock was a young photographer working for the Magnum agency when he met James Dean in the winter of 1954, at a party hosted by director Nicholas Ray at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. As Stock observed a moody Jimmy slouched on a chair, he wondered what Ray had seen in him to give him the lead role in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). After exchanging a few polite words, Stock learned they had someone in common: Gjon Mili, the renowned LIFE magazine photographer at whose New York studio Elia Kazan had shot Jimmy's screen test for East of Eden (1955). Stock had worked as Mili's apprentice for four years upon his discharge from military service and was also his good friend . James Dean and Dennis Stock in 1955 Becau se Stock was unfamiliar with Dean's work, he accepted Jimmy's invitation to attend a preview of  East of Eden  later in the week at a Santa Monica theatre. When Dennis saw the film, he was mesmerized by Jimmy's heartfelt performance an

Golden Couples: Clark Gable & Jean Harlow

  At the 3rd Academy Awards ceremony, MGM's hugely successful prison drama The Big House (1930) earned writer Frances Marion an Oscar for Best Writing. Hoping that she would be inspired to repeat that accomplishment, Irving Thalberg, head of production at Metro, sent Marion to Chicago, Illinois to research story ideas. While flicking through the pages of The Saturday Evening Post , she found an article revealing that, in a city where people distrusted the police, a small group of leading citizens met in secret to arrange their own justice for criminals. Marion took inspiration from that story and wrote The Secret Six (1931), in which Wallace Beery and Lewis Stone, stars of The Big House , play two mobsters prosecuted by a half a dozen vigilantes. Thalberg was pleased with the leading roles Marion wrote for Beery and Stone, but asked if she could also fill out one of the minor leads for Clark Gable , a tall, dark and handsome 30-year-old actor whom Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had recen

Films I Saw in 2020

For the past four years, I have shared with you a list of all the films I saw throughout  2016 , 2017 , 2018 and 2019 , so I thought I would continue the «tradition» and do it again in 2020. This list includes both classic and «modern» films, which make up a total of 161 titles. About three or four of these were re-watches, but I decided to include them anyway. Let me know how many from these you have seen. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favorites.   Sherlock Jr. (1924) | Starring Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Joe Keaton and Ward Crane The Crowd  (1928) | Starring James Murray, Eleanor Boardman, Bert Roach and Estelle Clark Young Mr. Lincoln  (1939) | Starring Henry Fonda, Alice Brady, Marjorie Weaver and Arleen Whelan Brief Encounter  (1945) | Starring Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway and Joyce Carey The Bells of St. Mary's  (1945) | Starring Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Travers and Joan Carroll   The Girl He Left Behind  (1956) |

Top 10 Favorite Films of the 1950s

Continuing with my top 10 (or top 20, if I cannot narrow it down to just 10) of my favorite films of each decade, today I bring you my top 10 favorite films of the 1950s. Please bear in mind that this my own personal opinion, which of course is limited to the films that I have thus far. Check out my favorites from the 1930s and 1940s . ***************************************************************************************** # 10 :  Harvey (19 50 ) Directed by Henry Koster | Starring James Stewart, Josephine Hu ll, Peggy Dow, Charles Drake and Cecil Kellaway | Universal Pictures James Stewart plays an eccentric middle-aged man named Elwood P. Dowd (that's probably one of the fanciest names I have ever heard), whose best friend is an invisible tall rabbit named Harvey. What's not to like? ***************************************************************************************** # 9 :  An Affair to Remember (19 5 7 ) Directed by Leo McCarey | Starri

Golden Couples: Henry Fonda & Barbara Stanwyck

In the mid- and late 1930s, screwball comedy was in vogue and pratically every actress in Hollywood tried her hand at it. Barbara Stanwyck never considered herself a naturally funny person or a commedienne per se , but after delivering a heart-wrenching performance in King Vidor's Stella Dallas (1937), she decided she needed a « vacation » from emotional dramas. In her search for a role, she stumbled upon a « champagne comedy » called The Mad Miss Manton (1938), originally intended as a Katharine Hepburn vehicle.   Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda in The Mad Miss Manton     Directed by Leigh Jason from a script by Philip G. Epstein, The Mad Miss Manton begins when vivacious Park Avenue socialite Melsa Manton finds a corpse while walking her dogs in the early hours of the morning. She calls the police, but they dismiss the incident — not only because Melsa is a notorious prankster, but also because the body disappears in the meantime. Sarcastic newspaper editor Peter Ames is p

May & June Favorites

I have always wanted to do a «monthly favorites» type of post on this blog, but I kept putting it off some reason or the other. Last year, though, I finally decided to do it. I will be doing one of these every month (or every two months) and I will include literally everything that I have loved or that has made me happy during that time, be it a film, a song, a book, a TV show or even an item of clothing. Here are my May and June favorites. ******************************************************************************************* Favorite TV show: Fleabag (2016-2019) I watched Andrew Scott's interview on The Graham Norton Show (about damn time he was invited!) and one of the things they talked about was his character on a TV show called Fleabag . I have never heard of it, but everyone was raving about it, so I was curious to see it, especially when Andrew's character was called The Hot Priest (I'm not joking, that's the actual name of his character). I b

The Carole Lombard Memorial Blogathon: The Gable & Lombard Love Story

A lot happened in 1932. Gandhi was arrested by the British in India; Hattie W. Caraway became the first woman elected to the United States Senate; Aldous Huxley's  Brave New World  was published; women's suffrage was granted in Brazil; James Chadwick discovered the neutron; Goofy made his first ever appearance in a Disney short; the Summer Olympic Games took place in Los Angeles; the first Mars bar was produced; Babe Ruth performed his famous called shot; the BBC World Service began broadcasting; and the iconic Radio City Music Hall opened in Manhattan. It was also in 1932 that Carole Lombard met Clark Gable for the first time, not knowing each would change the other's life forever.     Jane Alice Peters was born to a wealthy Indiana family on October 6, 1908. When she was seven years old, her parents separated and her mother, Bessie, took her and her two older brothers to live in Los Angeles. Jane grew up a «tomboy» and was passionately involved in sports in middle school