Cinema undoubtedly provided a safe-haven for the demoralized American nation during the 1920s and 30s in an era of economic turmoil. Whilst providing a channel of escapism the masses yearned for film which appealed to their tribulations and involved itself in their gritty social realities. Consequently the iconic American Gangster entered the cinematic realm, an icon already present in the public consciousness with gangsters i.e. Al Capone hailed the ‘Robin Hood’ of urban America. The representation of ‘the gangster’ was a blurred one and cinema further blurred these lines in ‘The Public Enemy (1931.)’ Warner Bros ensured that the film stood as a parable in educating the public to expose and remove the glamour from the hoodlums of the underworld. But surely the gangster’s existence in Hollywood would prove conflicting to this sentiment. And whilst ‘The Public Enemy’ unashamedly highlights the violence and immorality of the bootlegging criminal, Cagney’s charismatic portrayal of Tom Powers placed the gangster in the realm of Hollywood stars. The public’s desire for the working class hero attributed the gangster with iconic status. This icon began to erase the class boundaries and presented America as an avant garde land of the classless. Tom Powers and Matt Doyle provided a sense of optimism within the Depression climate and crime as a conduit of success for the poor highlighted a new perverted side to the American Dream. Yet ‘The Public Enemy’ could refer to the economic crisis itself as the film’s epilogue insists ‘the public enemy is not a man, nor is it a character—it is a problem that sooner or later we, the public must solve.’
posting from QUB , Shanice Atkins.