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The Public Enemy

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The Public Enemy (1931), starring James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Mae Clarke
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The Public Enemy (1931), starring James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Mae Clarke

Synopsis of The Public Enemy

In The Public Enemy, Oscar-winner James Cagney (“Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Angels with Dirty Faces“) became a superstar with his gritty performance as a prohibition-era Irish-American street punk who tries to make it big in Chicago’s organized crime world. Features the famous grapefruit-in-your-face scene with co-star Mae Clark (“Frankenstein“). Co-starring the original Blonde Bombshell, Jean Harlow (“Dinner at Eight“). Recently selected by the prestigious American Film Institute as one of the 400 greatest American films of all time. Inducted into the Library of Congress National Film Registry.

The famous grapefruit fight scene in "The Public Enemy"

Tom Powers: [Tom shuffles to the breakfast table in his pajamas. He’s just finished a demanding call with Nails Nathan] Ain’t you got a drink in the house?
Kitty: Well, not before breakfast, dear.
Tom Powers: [immediately annoyed] … I didn’t ask you for any lip. I asked you if you had a drink.
Kitty: [sheepishly] I know Tom, but I, I wish that…
Tom Powers: …there you go with that wishin’ stuff again. I wish you was a wishing well. So that I could tie a bucket to ya and sink ya.
Kitty: Well, maybe you’ve found someone you like better. [Tom is enraged and disgusted by her implication. He grimaces and shoves a grapefruit in her face as he leaves the table]

Product description

James Cagney created his career-defining role in William Wellman’s landmark gangster movie also starring Jean Harlow, Mae Clarke, and Joan Blondell. The film, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay, traces the rise and fall of prohibition-era mobster Tom Powers. From his childhood corrupted by the beer hall, pool parlor, and false friends, to his adulthood as a henchman of ruthless but innately decent bootlegger Paddy Ryan, Tom rises to the top of the heap, with all the accoutrements of success: custom-tailored tuxedoes, fancy cars, and gorgeous girls. But fate soon takes Tom down another path. Tommy’s degeneration from brash kid to vicious lowlife is brought home in a famous scene in which he smashes a grapefruit in the face of his latest mistress (Mae Clarke).

Editorial review of The Public Enemy courtesy of

Director William Wellman (Wings), a World War I veteran who turned his experiences in battle into an insistence on unpretentious violence in his films, made Public Enemy a particularly brutal account of the rise and fall of a monstrous gangster (James Cagney). Cagney delivers one of the most famous performances in film history as the snarling crook who–in one of the film’s most famous scenes–smashes a grapefruit into the face of Mae Clarke. The film’s a bit dated, but its action scenes still pack an unusual wallop. –Tom Keogh

Cast of characters

The Public Enemy 1931 cast

Additional Cast

  • Lev Abramov … Goon (uncredited)
  • Clark Burroughs … Dutch (uncredited)
  • Mae Clarke (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man) … Kitty (uncredited)
  • Frank Coghlan Jr. … Tom as a Boy (uncredited)
  • George Daly … Machine Gunner (uncredited)
  • Frankie Darro (Pinocchio) … Matt as a Boy (uncredited)
  • Snitz Edwards (Battling Butler) … Miller (uncredited)
  • Rita Flynn … Molly Doyle (uncredited)
  • Dorothy Gee … Nails’ Girl (uncredited)
  • Douglas Gerrard … Assistant Tailor (uncredited)
  • Dorothy Gray … Little Girl (uncredited)
  • Ben Hendricks Jr. … ‘Bugs’ Moran as a Boy (uncredited)
  • Robert Homans (Night Monster) … Officer Pat Burke (uncredited)
  • Eddie Kane … Joe – Headwaiter (uncredited)
  • Arnold Lucy … Brewery owner (uncredited)
  • Mia Marvin … Jane (uncredited)
  • Sam McDaniel … Headwaiter (uncredited)
  • Harold Minjir (Blondie: Footlight Glamour) … Tailor (uncredited)
  • Kewpie Morgan (Laurel and Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers) … Man playing cards (uncredited)
  • Helen Parrish (You’ll Find Out) … Little Girl (uncredited)
  • Lee Phelps (Take Me Out to the Ball Game) … Steve – Bartender (uncredited)
  • Russ Powell … Bartender (uncredited)
  • Purnell Pratt (Scarface) … Officer Powers (uncredited)
  • Nanci Price … Little Girl (uncredited)
  • Joe Sawyer (The Walking Dead 1936) … Pool player (uncredited)
  • Landers Stevens … Doctor (uncredited)
  • William H. Strauss … Pawnbroker (uncredited)
  • Charles Sullivan … Mug (uncredited)
  • Lucille Ward … Mrs. Dalton (uncredited)
  • Adele Watson … Mrs. Doyle (uncredited)

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