The Irish in Us
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James Cagney gives an electric performance in director Lloyd Bacon's 1935 comedy The Irish in Us (1935). Set on Manhattan's lower east side, Cagney plays Danny O'Hara, a would-be fight promoter and the rebel wild card among three Irish brothers living with their mother (Mary Gordon). Danny's brothers Pat and Mike (Pat O'Brien and Frank McHugh) both have steady respectable jobs and beg him to follow in their footsteps. Danny, however, sees a chance to strike it rich by managing a loose cannon prizefighter (Allen Jenkins). As a result, tensions run high in the O'Hara household, especially when a beautiful girl (Olivia de Havilland) threatens to come between Danny and Pat.
When James Cagney made The Irish in Us, he was an established star at Warner Bros. and had recently been named one of the "Top Ten Moneymakers" in Hollywood. The Irish in Us was one of three Cagney films released in 1935. It was the sort of film Cagney referred to in his 1976 autobiography Cagney by Cagney as a "cuff opera," referring to the ad-libbed "off-the-cuff" dialogue that he and the other actors would often contribute to certain scenes. "I recall a scene [in The Irish in Us] where Frank McHugh comes back from a formal affair," says Cagney in his book. "He was wearing a full dress suit with a white cap. Pat looks him over and says, 'You didn't wear that cap to the ball, did you?' Frank ad-libbed the reply: 'Oh, I know-it should have been black.'" Director Lloyd Bacon encouraged such improvising throughout the filming as a way to beef up the underdeveloped screenplay.
The Irish in Us was a picture that Cagney had some reservations about making. According to author Michael Freedland in his 1975 biography Cagney, "Every day [Lloyd Bacon] would call out to Jimmy and Pat O'Brien: 'Boys, the rushes are great.' He did it so often that an exasperated Cagney finally rounded on Bacon: 'Listen, Lloyd. If the rushes are so great why don't we forget the picture and release the rushes?'"
Cagney's performance and the strong supporting cast make watching The Irish in Us a pleasure. Cagney's frequent co-star and close friend Pat O'Brien brings depth to his role as the straight-as-an-arrow police officer brother. A teenaged Olivia de Havilland is lovely and memorable in one of her earliest screen roles as Cagney's love interest, Lucille.
The Irish in Us received mixed reviews upon its release, though it still went on to earn a substantial profit. "Lloyd Bacon, no mean kidder himself," said the New York Times review, "loves this type of hoke comedy, as does Cagney, and he has put on the pressure for laughs here. So much so that audience response rolls from one gag on top another, several times drowning the second entry. If it's laughs they're looking for, this is it."
Producer: Samuel Bischoff (uncredited)
Director: Lloyd Bacon
Screenplay: Earl Baldwin; Frank Orsatti (story)
Cinematography: George Barnes
Art Direction: Esdras Hartley
Music: M.K. Jerome, Bernhard Kaun, Heinz Roemheld (all uncredited)
Film Editing: James Gibbon
Cast: James Cagney (Danny O'Hara), Pat O'Brien (Pat O'Hara), Olivia de Havilland (Lucille Jackson), Allen Jenkins (Michael 'Mike' O'Hara), Mary Gordon (Ma O'Hara), J. Farrell McDonald (Captain Jackson).
BW-84m. Closed captioning.
by Andrea Passafiume