JAMES CAGNEY 1931 ‘INTIMATE INTERVIEW’

Here’s a new find (at least for me). It’s a 1931 short film called ‘Intimate Interviews’ featuring a journalist named Dorothy West interviewing the new screen sensation James Cagney at his home. There are so many interesting things about this eight minute time capsule that its hard to know where to start. Who was Dorothy West? Answer: she was the ‘host’ of three short films called ‘Intimate Interviews’ of which this is one. (The others feature Bela Lugosi and Walter Huston.) Was she really a journalist? Or just an actress playing one? Answer: Don’t know. There is almost nothing online about her–her IMDB page only offers up what I just told you. Next is: was that really Cagney’s house they were shooting in the backyard of? Answer: don’t know. For many years Cagney lived in a rustic country-like estate in Coldwater Canyon which has been well documented pictorially. This one ain’t that one though. Perhaps most importantly the film was directed by a woman named Grace Elliot, of whom as little is known as Dorothy West. What I find interesting here is that two women–in a time when women were denied most business opportunities–decided to team up and start a business; they clearly were hoping to create a series that would grow past the initial three ‘episodes’ that they shot. That it didn’t, that the series stalled after the first three installments, is a sad end to their tale. Neither of them seem to have gone any further in show business after the ‘Intimate Interviews’ series collapsed.

Now we come to Cagney. He’s 31 years old and has just become famous. We begin by seeing him working out on his lawn. His workout outfit is curious. He wears saddle shoes and women’s underwear. When Ms. West begins the interview they’re sitting unnervingly close to each other and Cagney’s manner is sly and seductive. But what’s truly interesting here is that the answers don’t appear to be all that scripted. Indeed Cagney sounds a lot like he does in the interview I posted two days ago which took place fifty years later, also outside of a Cagney home (his farm in upstate New York). He pitches the same line–that he’s only interested in work, not stardom, and has no grand ambitions and doesn’t consider himself special. The film ends with a silly little golfing routine and a printed announcement that the audience should let the theater manager know who else they’d like to see interviewed. And that’s the end of this valuable curio that somehow survived the cruel fate of so much early sound film–that of the cinematic disappearing act.

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