There's an old Irish proverb that goes, "Those who shake hands with the devil often have trouble getting their hands back," and in this picture it's Cagney who has firmly gripped the devil's outstretched hand. A college medical professor at Dublin's Royal College of Surgeons, Cagney
spends his days lecturing students but at night wears the hat of a militant member of the Irish Republican Army. The 1921 conflict between the IRA and the British Black and Tans is apparent from the opening frames, as a group of militiamen break up a seemingly innocent funeral service. It is
innocent only in appearance, however. When the wooden casket is sent crashing to the ground it is a supply of guns that falls out, not a corpse. Cagney is a man driven, obsessed with the idea of living in an Ireland free from British rule. As Cagney the doctor heals patients, so will Cagney the
revolutionary heal his war-torn country. Cagney tries to influence some of his students, especially the innocent Irish-American Murray, to set down their stethoscopes and take up arms. Murray resists until he witnesses the murder of a friend by the Black and Tans. He takes refuge with the IRA and
soon begins to understand what they are fighting for. He finds himself torn between his devotion to a cause and his growing love for Wynter, a member of the royal family who has been taken prisoner by Cagney. Though a peace treaty promises to put an end to the violence, Cagney refuses to give up
his ideals. Acting to sabotage the passage of the treaty, Cagney tries to kill Wynter. Angered at Cagney's unflinching belief in violence, Murray guns him down just before Wynter is about to be shot. As Cagney lived by the violence which accompanied the devil's handshake, so did he die by it.
Although somewhat uneven in its production values (nearly all critics complained about the inconsistency of the actors' brogues), SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL provides Cagney with the finest role of his later period. Fortunately, Cagney is not left to carry the film by himself; he is blessed with a
splendid Dublin locale and a superb cast of supporting players, from IRA commander-in-chief Redgrave down to the bits from the Abbey Theatre company.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: There's an old Irish proverb that goes, "Those who shake hands with the devil often have trouble getting their hands back," and in this picture it's Cagney who has firmly gripped the devil's outstretched hand. A college medical professor at Dublin's Royal… (more)