Picture Snatcher

Ring a Ding Ding

Picture Snatcher (1933)

     In an era of tough guy, gangster James Cagney characters, the actor took a reprieve from his criminal work that became a signature for Warner Bros. during the 1930s and played a legitimate working man in Picture Snatcher, at least partially.

     Cagney manages to live a life only a stone’s throw away from the hoodlum audiences knew him as when playing Danny Kean (although WB would also release Footlight Parade this same year that showed off Cagney’s song and dance background). At the film’s opening, Danny is released from prison, picked up by his gangster pals, offered a woman, fitted for new duds, and given his “salary” for the three years he spent “in stir”. Danny no longer desires to live the criminal life, however, and tells his boys he will be taking a job as a reporter, having been offered a position by a gent while in prison.

     Ralph Bellamy is that gracious fellow, city editor of the Graphic News Mr. McClean. The paper is considered a gossip rag and poorly regarded, and McClean is not sure the ex-con is cut out for the work, but gives him a chance on a tough assignment. No photographer has been able to get a picture of a firefighter whose wife and her lover burned to death in their home while he was out. Danny, unafraid of the gun the rescue worker is pointing at reporters, sneaks into the building and poses as an insurance claims adjuster. He manages to snatch a photo of the couple off the wall and make a clean getaway. Danny now has the job and is earning an ever-increasing salary as he proves capable of getting photos others cannot. He is also courting Patricia Nolan (Patricia Ellis) who is the daughter of the copper who put Danny in prison to begin with. Once proving himself on the level and managing to get the man promoted through positive press, Officer Nolan (Robert E. O’Connor) permits the relationship.

     Danny is preparing to propose to Patricia once he earns a decent enough salary and he thinks he has the assignment to do it: He must photograph the execution of a woman. Although the Graphic News has not been invited to the execution, Danny gets himself in anyway and snaps a shot from a camera hidden at his ankle. The other reporters find out, however, and a chase to stop print of the insensitive material is underway by both police and reporters –who do not want their prison news privileges revoked. The incident also risks Officer Nolan’s demotion because he was in charge of reporters at the event. Later, Danny tries to redeem himself by tracking down his former criminal crony who has shot two police officers.

     I found Picture Snatcher to be quite riveting. Although he’s gone legit, Cagney’s character still has the rough edges of a criminal as he gruffly maneuvers through the sleazy subjects his paper covers. Cagney also follows up on the grapefruit-in-the-face incident in 1931’s The Public Enemy by smacking/pushing a sexually aggressive dame in the face, knocking her into a chair. Later he dumps a brandy down a woman’s plunging neckline.

     The movie is flush with sexually aggressive females. A fellow reporter makes eyes at Danny from their first encounter and despite being involved with McClean, very strongly smooches a reclining Danny while the man physically struggle to remove her. Another woman who was angling to get with Danny on his release from prison talks much about going to bed, so Danny eventually scoops her up, puts her on the bed and locks her in her room. For a moment there, we are all convinced the protagonist will go to bed with the gal for the cause. These are clearly pre-Production Code aspects of the film that would never have flown in the coming years.

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