A British Cagney? Cinema and self-definition in the 1930s

Gill Plain

in John Mills and British Cinema

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print March 2006 | ISBN: 9780748621071
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748651092 | DOI:
A British Cagney? Cinema and self-definition in the 1930s

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Comparing John Mills and James Cagney was a surprisingly common pursuit of the 1930s and 1940s. Both actors began on the stage: Cagney in vaudeville, and Mills in the chorus of The Five O'Clock Girl at the London Hippodrome. The comparison with Cagney is more than simply a matter of one actor's influence upon another. It also serves as a means of illustrating the contrasts between British and American modes of masculinity and of examining the comparative condition of the two national cinemas. Two films which worked to construct Mills as a prototypical English action hero were First Offence (1936) and The Green Cockatoo (1937), and it is in these films, along with the seminal Forever England (1935), that the seeds of his later screen persona can be most clearly defined. By the end of the decade, however, both Mills and British cinema had entered a crisis of self-definition. The Green Cockatoo could have been designed as a textbook illustration of British cinema's inability to replicate the Hollywood product.

Keywords: John Mills; James Cagney; British cinema; Hollywood; masculinity; First Offence; Green Cockatoo; Forever England; self-definition

Chapter.  13116 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Film

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