Significant as the film which started Cagney's career, SINNER'S HOLIDAY tells the story of a penny arcade owner, La Verne, who lives with her two sons, Cagney and Gallagher, and daughter, Knapp. Hymer, a sideshow operator and bootlegger, incessantly flirts with Knapp until one of his
employees, Withers, intervenes. Also employed by Hymer is Cagney, a cowardly punk who takes charge of the bootlegging operation when Hymer is apprehended by police. Cagney, who has been skimming the profits, is confronted by Hymer when he is released. Cagney then shoots Hymer, confessing the
murder to his possessive mother. In order to keep her son out of trouble, La Verne stashes the gun in Withers' valise. Knapp, however, witnessed the murder and turns Cagney over to the police, saving her sweetheart Withers in the process. While only Cagney's first movie role, SINNER'S HOLIDAY
clearly defines the sort of character that he would later be associated with in such films as PUBLIC ENEMY and WHITE HEAT. As in the two later films, SINNER'S HOLIDAY has Cagney playing a murderous thug who is gentle as can be when it comes to "mom." Whether it be Beryl Mercer in PUBLIC ENEMY,
Margaret Wycherly in WHITE HEAT, or Lucille La Verne in SINNER'S HOLIDAY, Cagney's mother always has a nearly psychotic, obsessive, unconditional love for her son. The finest moment in SINNER'S HOLIDAY shows Cagney at his most pathetically weak, clinging to his mother and burying his head in her
breast. Lamenting over the murder he committed, he weeps: "I didn't mean to, Ma. I couldn't help it. Honest I couldn't. Don't leave me. You got to believe me. You've got to help me. I'm scared, Ma." The next logical extension is to have this Cagney character grow up into Cody Jarrett (his WHITE
HEAT role) and give his apocalyptic yell, "Made it, Ma, top of the world!" Based on a stage play, "Penny Arcade," SINNER'S HOLIDAY became a film, thanks to the enthusiasm of Al Jolson. Jolson, who saw the play on Broadway during its short three-week run, bought the rights for $20,000. He then sold
the play to Warner Bros. with the stipulation that Cagney and Blondell be involved (the stage director, William Keighley, was replaced by Adolfi, but later directed Cagney in EACH DAWN I DIE, 1939, and THE FIGHTING 69TH, 1940, among others). Although Warner Bros. was not pleased that Jolson could
dictate the cast, they agreed, signing Cagney and Blondell to play the same parts they played on stage. Both were signed to their first contracts--Cagney at $400 a week and Blondell at half that. While the reviews for the film were less than favorable, Cagney and Blondell received numerous raves.
(Blondell actually made her second screen appearance in SINNER'S HOLIDAY, first hitting the theaters in THE OFFICE WIFE which was filmed after this picture but released first.) Strangely, Cagney, who owed this first break to Jolson, never managed to meet the "jazz singer."
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