Hard to Handle
The kind of fast-moving, unpretentious topical picture that Warners' did best in the early thirties. There is life in every frame, surprise in every twist of plot, a slangy down-to-the-pavement truth in every line of dialog, and actors who are real people. Here Cagney gives a great performance as a con-man sharpster, always on the run from one phony scheme to another, one step ahead of the law and chasing women along the way. He is introduced in a fabulously staged dance marathon sequence, where the camera catches one spectator regretting she has to “wait a long time before somebody drops dead.” Cagney is the fast-talking announcer, and starts running when the promoter skips off with the prize money. Director Mervyn LeRoy misses no chance to expose the capitalist instinct behind the depression fads depicted in Hard to Handle. Cagney is a joy to watch as he hustles shares for a Florida grapefruit fraud that lands him in jail, where he discovers how to parlay his grapefruits into a new weight-losing racket (he's already made it big once pushing reducing creams advertised by hard-up society ladies). Ruth Donnelly and Mary Brian give able comic support as identically clothed mother and daughter frantically on the make for a rich husband/son-in-law. If only a semi-documentary of the period (only incidentally, Hard to Handle makes They Shoot Horses Don't They look wholly synthetic), Hard to Handle is a must-see slice of depression realism and humor.