This landmark film concerns Tom Powers (Cagney), a wayward Irish youth from Chicago's gritty South Side who becomes a big-time mobster during Prohibition, while his stable older brother Mike (Cook) works a low-paying but honest job. As Tom's dark star soars ever higher in the gangland hierarchy, he and childhood buddy Matt Doyle (Woods) leave a trail of blood in their wake. Ultimately, this life of crime exacts its toll on Tom.
Wellman's "The Public Enemy" launched the film career of a pugnacious Irish-American from Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen who started out as a dancer, only to become the toughest tough guy of them all: Jimmy Cagney, never cockier than he is here. Since organized crime was a fairly new and frightening epidemic at the time, Wellman gives "Enemy" the stark feel of a purely cautionary tale. Both the famous grapefruit scene and Tom's final homecoming still pack a wallop, and a stunning Jean Harlow injects plenty of sex appeal as Tom's gal Gwen.