CAGNEY/SNYDER=SORRY/GRATEFUL

Spurred on by yesterday’s ritual viewing of ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ I went in search of James Cagney interview footage and turned up this 1980 interview with Tom Snyder, shot on Cagney’s farm in upstate New York. The first thing that struck me was how incredibly unlined Cagney’s face was at age 80–he looks a lot better than he did twenty years earlier in ‘One Two Three’. He seems beatific, cherubic in his pensive and gentle way. He keeps his answers and observations simple and homey–his daily motto is ‘No stress, no strain–keep it that way’, which amuses Snyder no end. It’s rare to find much interview footage of Cagney and for that we must be grateful. But, alas, there’s Tom Snyder to deal with and I’m sorry it was he who got the gig. His unctuousness, his natural bombast and his woefully unintimate and insincere manner serve, I think, not to draw Cagney out but to keep the star contained and suspiciously tight-lipped. In other words, I think there was a deeper, more interesting and more mischievously funny Cagney hiding underneath this performance. Snyder’s manner is unintentionally patronizing and Cagney smells this. Nonetheless it’s charming to see him relaxing at his incredibly unpretentious little farmhouse and I love when, in response to who will play him in an upcoming Broadway show called ‘Cagney’ (don’t know if it ever actually happened) Cagney mentions ‘this young fella Baryshnikov wants to do it…he’s a little guy, even smaller than I am’…

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