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James Cagney never exactly says "You dirty rat!" in Taxi! (1932), but he comes close with "Come out and take it, you yellow-bellied rat!" And so, with some dramatic license, was born a line beloved by impersonators everywhere.
Made at Warner Bros. the year after Cagney had exploded into stardom in that studio's The Public Enemy (1931), Taxi! casts the pugnacious performer as Matt Nolan, a New York City cabbie pushed to the wall by a syndicate that wants to control independent taxi companies. Loretta Young costars as his girlfriend and eventual wife, Sue, whose father (Guy Kibbee) runs the service that Matt drives for. When the older man is sent to prison for shooting at a truck driver who smashes his cab, Nolan emerges as the leader of the combative cabbies.
Taxi! marks the first occasion when Cagney dances on screen, as Matt and Sue enter a Peabody contest at a nightclub. To play his competition on the dance floor, Cagney recommended his pal, fellow tough-guy-dancer George Raft. The scene culminates in Raft winning the contest and getting slugged by Cagney for his trouble. Within a year or so, Raft -- uncredited here -- would emerge as a Warner Bros. star in his own right.
Young later confessed to developing a crush on Cagney during the filming of Taxi!. "I admired him so much, though I could never tell him so," she revealed. "I remember having this romantic dream about him...in which I was drowning and he rescued me." Young was also very admiring of her co-star's acting ability, 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."
As in The Public Enemy, several scenes in Taxi! involved the use of live machine-gun bullets. After a few of the slugs narrowly missed Cagney's head, he outlawed the practice on future films.
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Screenplay: John Bright, Kubec Glasmon, from play The Blind Spot by Kenyon Nicholson
Cinematography: James Van Trees
Original Music: Leo F. Forbstein
Editing: Ralph Dawson, James Gibbon
Art Director: Esdras Hartley
Principal Cast: James Cagney (Matt Nolan), Loretta Young (Sue Reilly), George E. Stone (Skeets), Guy Kibbee (Pop Reilly), Leila Bennett (Ruby), George Raft (William "Willie" Kenny).
BW-69m. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe