The Public Enemy

Filed under: Movie Viewing — emodjsteph at 10:21 pm on Saturday, September 3, 2011

I’d like to start this off by saying I am not a fan of old movies. As a general rule, I don’t enjoy watching movies that were made before the 90’s. I also don’t really like anything that has to do with gangsters and have never seen a gangster movie. So, with that said, I didn’t anticipate liking this movie very much but I tried to keep as open of a mind as possible.

For a majority of the film, I was very distracted by noting all the differences between the actors, acting styles, speech and costuming. As someone that tends to look at things from a sociological or psychological point of view, I got very caught up in noting the differences of beauty standards between then and now. It was a bit difficult to try and bring my mind back to focus on the movie itself because the plot didn’t do much to hold my attention. I did enjoy the characterizations and got the impression that the film might have been a little ahead of its time in regards to how they took the time to develop the characters rather than just the plot, but that’s a pretty ignorant assumption seeing as I’ve never watched a movie this old before.

It took some time but I was eventually able to watch the movie without focusing on how drastically different it is from movies made today, and it was then that I was able to almost begin enjoying it. There were certainly funny moments and Tom was a considerably interesting character to follow. I did notice that while we were told before the viewing that there was quite a bit of violence, I was surprised to notice that almost all of the violence was off screen or implied. In the spanking scene towards the beginning, you don’t see the spanking itself – just the set up and a tight shot on the boy’s face reacting to the hits. In almost every scene where someone was shot by a gun, you saw the person shooting, heard the gunshot and then it’d cut to the person falling. As far as I could recall, there was only one time that you actually see someone getting shot on camera and I believe that was when Matt and Tom get shot at and Matt dies. To an extent, that made that death scene stand out quite a bit more to me and I’m unsure if that was an artistic or stylistic choice or not.

All in all, I was surprised I didn’t really dislike the movie. The sexuality, violence and conflicts were similar enough to movies today, though executed differently due to the time period and available technology back then. This helped keep my interest somewhat but my complete lack of interest in the gangster genre probably didn’t help matters too much.

There was a point I wanted to make in class but didn’t get to though so I guess I’ll put it here. We were discussing the public’s fascination and interest with gangster movies and the point that people like to root for the main character even if they’re a criminal because we can partly identify with the desire to lash out and do whatever we want regardless of the consequences, but then cheer when the criminal gets locked up or killed because we feel like justice is served. It’s a conflict between wanting to be a good citizen and wanting the freedom of doing whatever you want, even if it’s against the law. This very strongly reminded me of the Showtime show, Dexter, which I love and watch.

I know it’s not an old film, but it’s a good modern example of this same sort of fascination. In case you don’t know anything about Dexter, a very brief explanation of the show is it centers around Dexter Morgan, a serial killer that only murders murderers, rapists, etc. He works for Miami Metro as a blood splatter analyst and hides his secret from everyone around him. He is very careful and selective about the people he murders and does extensive research to ensure that they deserve to be killed in order to avenge their victims and protect others.


What is most interesting about the show is the constant sort of tug of war the viewer feels towards Dexter. Clearly he is a murderer and that should make him a bad guy but he only kills people that hurt and kill other people, so is he really a bad guy or just a vigilante? You root for Dexter in his kills and fear for him when his safety is in jeopardy and he might get caught. It is similar to how I feel most people feel when watching gangster movies, that part of you that roots for the character that you know you probably shouldn’t be rooting for.

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January 21, 2016 @ 9:13 PM

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March 29, 2017 @ 12:07 AM


Stephanie Lee's Cinema Blog » The Public Enemy

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