James Cagney plays Joe Greer, who tries to over-protect his younger brother from the evils of loose women and drinking. He succeeds only in ruining his own career after essentially killing another driver in a stupid on-track ramming. (No charges pressed—nobody cared back then apparently about assault with a deadly weapon.) After hitting bottom, his girl friend (whom he’d unceremoniously dumped) takes him back, he co-drives his brother’s ride at Indy and wins. Predictable stuff, but watchable anyway, especially for some solid on-track action.
Although not a great film, we can be thankful that at least some of the early racing is preserved here, even if some of it was staged. The cars are cool, Cagney is a hoot as he polishes his tough-guy persona, and they have the chutzpah to have him come back from a lap down to win at the checkered.
Type of Racing: Big cars
Tracks: Ascot Speedway (Los Angeles, CA); Ventura Speedway (Ventura, CA);
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Reel Racers: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, Frank McHugh
Real Racers: Billy Arnold, Fred Frame, Harry Hartz
Year of Release: 1932
DVD Length: 71 minutes
Approx. On-Track: 19 minutes
. . . Cagney’s advice to his brother, “You can’t take the roar of the crowd to the bank and cash it.” (Yeah, but guys have been trying ever since, Jimmy.)
. . . Screeching tires when they’re racing dirt.
. . . When Spud doesn’t take his lucky booties (“Racing drivers have no right to have kids,” Cagney has snarled earlier) into the race car, you know he’s doomed.
. . . During some of the Indy sequences, there are no leaves on the trees outside the track, yet another clue that it’s staged racing instead of the May classic.
. . . They are racing ambulances to the hospital after the race. Hmmm. Now this part we could believe!